The Same, But Different

Zahra Dot

© Copyright 2021 by Zahra Dot

Zahra with a lion cub on her lap.

When I say that I live in South Africa many people have images of me living among wild animals and having lions in my backyard. This is not in any way true. Wild animals and humans are, for the most part, separate.

But there are occasions when these two species are allowed to interact. There are several game reserves and farms where these animals are kept and some even allow limited interaction. This is a story of my interaction with one of these wild creatures.

There is a farm just outside my city. It takes care of and rears several wild animals, especially of the cat species. They have lions, tigers, cheetahs and several other animals. They even have an ostrich which you have to be careful of in case it pecks you, since that could hurt. The big animals have quite big enclosures, so that they can be a bit more comfortable than if they were in a zoo. I was at this farm walking around, looking and admiring each of the animals.

However, the thing that drew my attention, and also the attention of most of the visitors was one cage that had two baby lions. This was a small wire cage in the centre of the farm. They were perhaps only a few months old. Many people crowded around the wire cage, I too squeezed my way through and watched the two lion cubs walking around in their enclosed limited space, being as playful as two little kids.

After a while, most of the people wandered away, and only I and a few others were left alone staring at these beautiful babies. As I was about to move from my place a worker came to the cage and started unlocking it. So, I decided to stay a little while longer and watch their interaction. He walked to the middle of the cage and sat down on a wood stump He opened the plastic tub that he had and placed it on the ground. The lions rushed towards it and started gulping the food down, each cub shoving the other away, trying to get its share. The food seemed to be small chunks of meat cut up and soaked in milk. At least thatís what I thought it was.

After the cubs had finished their meal, they seemed satisfied and more relaxed. Not as hyper as before. The keeper seemed to be assessing them and then he looked up at us. There were three of us standing around watching the cubs. Me, a little kid of about 10, and his mother.  He then made a movement with his head indicating the gate. We all seemed confused about what he meant. So he got up and gruffly grunted, asking us if we would like to come in. My heart skipped a beat. Did he mean in the cage? With the lions? Before I could make any movement or answer him. The mother and her son moved rapidly toward the cage door. The little kid was hopping excitedly and making little sounds.

I started to follow them in the cage, but the keeper stopped me. Only two people at a time, for safety reasons. Once he closed the gate, I waited for a few seconds then ran off towards where my family were. I told them the news, hardly able to keep the excitement out of my voice. My sister and I rushed back to the cage, with the rest of my family in tow. When I got to the cage, I was relieved to find that none of the other people had come back to the cage. I didnít want anyone to take away my chance of playing with a lion cub. I waited impatiently looking at the boy and his mother in the cage. The boy seemed to be having the time of his life, kneeling on the floor and stroking the cub, as if it were just his cat back home. And in a sense, these were almost like cats. The same family, the same habits. Except they grew into bigger more dangerous creatures. Even though the son played with the cubs, the mother just stood to the side, looking slightly nervously at them. I scoffed at her concern.

Finally, the keeper thought they had had enough of a turn, which felt like a lifetime to me, but was probably only seven or ten minutes.

As they left the cage, I excitedly made my way in bumping the lady in my eagerness. My sister followed me in. The keeper closed the cage door behind us to keep the lions from escaping. We made our way towards these delightful creatures. My heart beating from excitement, I knelt down, slightly apprehensive at first and stroked one of them. He just gave a luxurious yawn and continued to lay down. At the sight of his relaxed body, I too relaxed and made myself comfortable on the dusty floor, not worrying about the state of my clothes.

I played with one cub and my sister played with the other, both of us reveling in our good fortune and this awesome opportunity that had been afforded to us. During this time my mind wandered, and I had wonderful thoughts of taking this cub home and looking after it as a pet. Of course, I knew that this could never be the case, but I had always been a dreamer.

As these thoughts passed through my head, I looked at the cub tenderly, He looked more alert lifting his head and beginning to get up. I waited to see what he would do. He first walked lazily around the cage then came to sit directly on my lap. I was frozen with a myriad of emotions. Excitement, anticipation and a tinge of fear. However, he seemed to be comfortable and relaxed, so I took cues from him and relaxed too. The keeper also smiled at me and nodded reassuringly. I tried to do nothing else but capture all these feelings and experiences in my memory. I didnít know if Iíd ever be honored by such an opportunity again.

 A few leisurely minutes passed this way, and I almost thought that he was asleep but as I turned to look at my sister, my scarf brushed over my cubís face. The scarf that I had worn that day was a bright red and had tassels hanging on the ends. These tassels moved with slight movement or in the wind. Of course, they caught the attention of my cub, and he decided that it would be a nice time to play. Thus, he tried to catch these tassels while I tried to move them out of his reach. He became more energetic and started jumping around. Even though he was just a baby, and so small, he was still heavy, and his claws had come out slightly during his playing. Feeling this, I took the chance to stand up while he jumped around me. I backed away a little, but he seemed attached to me, making little advances on my leg, his claws becoming hooked in my clothes. Although I was perfectly comfortable with him the previous moment, I was a little afraid now because of the fervor in which he played. I remembered the wild animal he actually was. I could not compare him to the tame cats I had played with before. In a sense, he was the same as them, but in another sense, totally different.

The keeper noticed that the cub was getting a little too high spirited and came to rescue me from my dilemma. He unhooked his claws and calmed him down by stroking him. I looked at my sister and we nodded in assent. I had had a wonderful time and I would never forget this experience, but it was time to leave. 

Zahra Dot lives in the beautiful country of South Africa. She loves drawing and using her creativity. She loves writing, but often leaves her work unfinished.

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