The Spanish lion cubs arrived in Johannesburg on Friday 31st October. It was a blazing hot day on the highveld. The CACH team met at the cargo section of OR Tambo airport. Linda Park, Drew, Stephanie, Chris Voets and Smaragda were all there. The air cargo section is narrow and congested, with huge trucks moving in and out of the area. There we chatted with the Lufthansa cargo agent who told us that they were well aware of the cubs’ arrival and were going to clear a parking place for Kevin and the Land Rover that would collect our precious container.
So off we all went to the airport terminal to meet CJ & Luis. We sat down together and had a meeting because this was the first time I had met them all. We discussed the coming year and how we would tackle the cub petting industry. Time seemed to fly because before we knew it we had to go to International Arrivals for CJ & Luis.
Well eventually there they were and at last we met face to face. Their flight was on time and when the greetings were over, we moved off quickly to go back to cargo to see the arrival of the cubs.
My cousin, Lynn, had very kindly taken me to the airport and would drive me back to cargo. We left the team to get our vehicle and on the way I managed to lose our parking ticket. So of course we could not get out of the parkade. I had to then run to the end of the parking area to the office to get another ticket to get us out. All that for R20. Phew that was hectic. The universe was conspiring against me and I was afraid that I would miss seeing the two little chaps I had been thinking about constantly for three months. We eventually arrived at air cargo too late to see the cubs, amongst the absolute chaos of so many huge trucks all trying to squeeze into impossibly small spaces.
By the time Lynn and I got there, the Land Rover was already loaded with the cubs. Kevin was there supervising the loading and tying the container onto the back of the vehicle. A crowd had gathered around the cubs; curious at the cargo. Most of the onlookers had never seen a lion before. I did not get to see the cubs as there was a bamboo curtain covering the wire.
It was now nearly midday and very hot. I felt so sorry for the cubs. So it was important to get on the road without delay. Before long we were off in convoy to take the cubs to Kevin’s sanctuary at Dinokeng, which is north of Pretoria.
On arrival Kevin and his rangers set about off-loading the heavy crate. It was so awkward to try and manouver off the back of the Land Rover. It took about six guys to lift it out and onto the ground.
The container was beautifully built to IATA specs, with a cleverly designed water system installed. There was still water in the little dishes.
The first sighting of the cubs was an incredible feeling for me. I could not believe that they had at last arrived. It had sometimes seemed that it would never happen, with all the delays waiting for all the permits. Yame was very calm, curious and showed little stress – a good traveller. He stood at the entrance of his container quietly looking at all that was going on.
Not so little George. He was extremely stressed, pacing about and crying. Sadly the container had to have a wire separation between the cubs and during the trip George had rubbed against the wire to get to his brother. We think because of the cataracts he is not seeing so well and is relying mainly on touch. So his little face was rubbed raw.
As soon as the container was on the ground Kevin opened the door and let them out. What an amazing moment, to see these two little lion cubs, born in France, and rescued in Spain, now step onto the grass safe in South Africa. Wow! Kevincalled to the cubs and they followed him like they had always known him. Apparently he had bonded with them right from his first meeting with the cubs at the airport.
We left them to wonder around, Yame exploring their new environment and little George right behind him. Kevin said we must just leave them to get a feeling for their new environment. He led them to a beautiful enclosure, built especially for them, where there was a wonderful big pond full of fresh water.
The cubs explored the garden, but were exhausted and eventually they walked into a house near the enclosure and collapsed onto the cool stone floors. There they stayed for hours, sleeping. When they woke up they decided to re-arrange the bedroom. Fluffy cat toy and cushions were dragged off the bed and chewed on, the Persian carpet was christened with a pee and the blanket was dragged around the room. These Spanish lions need to learn some manners!
We took them into their enclosure for water and to give them food. Yame ate and drank well. Little George was still too stressed, he drank a little but would not eat. He seemed not to like our South African chicken or beef. Well who can blame him. I don’t like them either, but I am vegetarian
Again Kevin had to tell everyone not to stress and to leave the cubs and that George would need more time than Yame to adjust. Kevin spent some quality time with them as you see in this video.
Because the weather was so fine and warm the cubs were due to sleep outside. But the wind picked up and the rangers felt that because of the noise of the wind and the strange animal sounds, that the cubs would be more comfortable inside where they would feel safer. So their first night they slept in a beautifully prepared room with new straw as their bed.
That night the Welgedacht team of rangers and volunteers from around the world gave us a lovely poitjie dinner in the lapa around a big fire. We met the owner of Welgedacht, Gerald, and had a lovely evening, and for me the only vegetarian there, they had prepared a special poitjie.
I was emotionally exhausted when we eventually went off to bed, to the bush camp which was a few kilometres away from where the cubs will live. Do go to the Welgedacht website and you will see how well we were cared for and how beautiful is the area that the cubs will live in.http://www.welgedachtsafaris.com/
The next morning we were taken back to see the cubs. Yame was up and about and very settled. Not so George. Still stressed and exhausted, he was walking around with his head held low as if he was trying to see over the cataracts in his eyes, dropping to the ground in a very sad little heap. I was so worried about him. Again Kevin and Jade, the ranger that will care for the cubs, told us not to worry that all he needed was time and a quiet place to collect himself and get used to his new environment.
We left the cubs to settle down with no one around and went with Jade and her volunteers to go and feed the lions, hyena and leopard living at the Sanctuary. What a fantastic experience. We saw some of the most beautiful animals in superb condition. The enclosures are well-designed with a very good and safe system to feed all these animals. We then helped the team to clean the enclosures. Picking up old bones and poo. I think I was the one who found the most poo and wanted to be crowned poop queen, but decided I would not push the issue because I was sure they would find a poop crown for me.
Late that afternoon, CJ eventually managed to get George to eat a little chicken laced with milk. We were all thrilled; the corner seemed to have been turned.
Next morning, Sunday, CJ and Luis went off early with the rangers to see the area. I did not go because I was leaving to go home at midday. So I went to see the cubs. Wow what an amazing change in George. Jade had fed him before I had arrived. George had not only eaten well but had also had a lot of liquid. Being dehydrated had affected his sight and now after good food and lots of water there was a little lion who was almost back to normal.
What a change, I was amazed, and thrilled, and relieved. I spent the morning at a very quiet enclosure, nobody around. CJ& Luis were away with the rangers, and the volunteers were off doing their daily chores.
The cubs were relaxed, played a little, then climbed onto the roof of their little den and slept through the heat of the morning. I sat in the heat with a little ginger cat on my lap just soaking up the quiet of the African bush and watching two very lucky little lions sleeping contentedly on their new den for hours. It was just the most tranquil time and I felt so privileged to be a part of this rescue of two little abused animals and to have met the wonderful people who will care for them for the rest of their lives.
Drew and her husband Brian, came to fetch me and we spent time with Jade while she again fed the cubs. Yame woolfed his food down and was quite prepared to do the same with George’s. We managed to occupy him with a bowl smeared with milk which he had to take time to completely lick clean, while George ate a very good lunch coached along by Jade. George is still not that fond of our SA chicken, and will have none of our beef.
So when I left I was very content, happy that the cubs had arrived and adjusted to their new home. It is a beautiful reserve with a team that is dedicated to their care and future.
Thank you Kevin, Gerald and the Welgedacht rangers for preparing a wonderful home for these little chaps. Thank you Jade for your gentle and patient care. They are truly a very lucky pair of lion cubs indeed.
Thank you to the CACH team because without you none of this would ever have happened.
Friday, 31st October 2014
Saturday, 1st November 2014
Sunday, 2nd November 2014