Animal Encounters

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With 13.2 million people living in Johannesburg’s province of Gauteng, it’s no surprise that the city is not exactly a refuge for wild animals (these creatures excepted). No elephants wander the streets, no zebras munch on our grass. The roars of the lions at dusk from the zoo down the hill are the closest thing we’ve got to real African wildlife in our neighborhood.

But luckily, you don’t have to go too far out of the city to get a little animal fix. When my sister and nephew were in town, we made the 45 minute drive to Lanseria to visit Croc City Reptile Park.

It’s a charming little park with a surprising amount of reptiles to see. We went on a weekday, and besides a large group of school children, we were the only guests there. Our tour started at a pool of smallish crocodiles, then proceeded to ever bigger pens full of increasingly large crocodiles. Nile Crocodiles are one of the few animals that never stop growing, so by the time they are 70 years old, those suckers are HUGE.

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After that we got a very personal tour of the other reptiles in the park, starting with a baby croc…

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Moving on to a four foot (harmless?) snake in the hands of a two year-old…

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And eventually working our way up to a huge boa constrictor draped around our neck.

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Thankfully, the guide did not bring out the terrifying black mamba or the viper that kept striking the glass.

After meeting so many scaly creatures, we were in the mood for something a little more cuddly. Thankfully, the famous Lion Park was just down the road. I touched on this place briefly in this post, but only glossed over the best part: we got to play with lion cubs!

They were 40+ pound kittens with claws to boot, but adorable nonetheless. Plus, we got to drive around and see some beautiful lions, and hang out with a giraffe.

So when our friends came to visit, and we hadn’t managed to spot any big cats on our safari, we thought it would be fun to take them back to the Lion Park. To our surprise, we found that the park had moved 20 kilometers down the road, rebranded itself, and was a completely different experience.

The rebranding probably had something to do with the multiple incidents of tourists rolling down their windows in the park (despite strict warnings) and getting mauled to death by lions. As a result, you can no longer self-drive through the park to see the adult lions.

The whole place was still under construction when we visited, like they had moved in a hurry. There were no giraffes to feed, and just one sad enclosure with some neurotic meerkats. The only part of the park that was fully complete seemed to be the gigantic gift shop we had to pass through on the way out. As Spencer put it, the whole place was “Disneyfied.”

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A vicious meerkat battle.

Worst of all, there were no baby lion cubs to play with because the latest batch was still too young. In order for our friends to at least see some big cats before leaving Africa, we all got tickets for the cheetah encounter. That, at least, was not disappointing.

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Just taking the cat for a walk.

The gorgeous cheetahs were friendly and docile, allowing us to pet them, walk with them, and even licking our hands.

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Even though the Lion Park has lost a lot of its simple, African charm, it is certainly more family-friendly and safe now. And it’s still a work in progress, so we may have to pay another visit in a little while. Once the lion cubs are old enough to meet, of course.

There is no comparison to seeing African animals in the wild, and we’ve found that you don’t have to drive very far to find a park teeming with them, like Pilanesburg. But in a pinch, it’s nice to know there are a few spots to get up close and personal with nature right here in the city.

 

 

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