IPL step aside, the king of the jungle is here | india | Hindustan Times
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IPL step aside, the king of the jungle is here

india Updated: May 04, 2009 00:06 IST
G. Krishnan

Never in my dreams did I imagine I'd get close to lions, touch and play with cubs. Getting up close with the King of the Jungle (or his little ones anyway) was a humbling experience.

The chance to take in the wildlife in South Africa has been too good to resist. Besides my love for animals, I had to also do it for my four-year-old son, Aman, who has been asking me since I arrived here, "Appa, did you see lion?"

Having found time away from work on Saturday morning, I visited Lion Park, not far from Johannesburg. This world charges an entry fee and warns: "All persons who enter the 'touch a cub' enclosure do so at their own risk and responsibility." But I was not deterred.

With only eight people allowed in at a time, I had to wait and grew anxious watching others cuddle the six-month-old cubs. When my turn came, I did not know where to begin. Two cubs were sleeping without a care while three others were in a playful mood. As I approached one in a corner, it grew curious. The cub started biting my knee but fortunately it did not get a good grip. As I squatted, I felt on top of the world.

It was like playing with dogs and cats, just that the cubs' paws were bigger. Another cub caught hold of my shirtsleeve and refused to let go. "Tap its nose and it will let go," said the staff manning the enclosure, but I did not want it to leave me.

If this was not enough, an even greater experience awaited at the third of four lion camps. My driver on the guided tour, Steven, suddenly jumped out and played with the fully-grown lions, patting them on the head, rubbing the neck and gently pushing them away. "I have raised them and they know me by my smell," Steven said. "They don't attack me."

The best moment came when a couple of curious lions came near the vehicle with only an iron fence separating them from us.

When some of us spoke to the lions, their expressions changed, the gold-coloured eyeballs glowing as if they were trying to make sense of what we were saying.

"I don't mind spending another hour here," said David Hobson, a fellow traveller. I could not disagree, and have lots to tell Aman when I return home.