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Out of Africa

Africa and game sanctuaries are practically synonymous and it would be crime to come all this way and not check the fauna.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2003 11:26 IST

GAME FOR IT

Africa and game sanctuaries are practically synonymous and it would be crime to come all this way and not check the fauna. Sadly, a tight schedule has made spending days in a game reserve impossible but this coastal town has a remedy for that.

Barely 20 minutes from the heart of Port Elizabeth lies the sprawling Kragga Kamma Game Park -- 200 acres of wildlife at close quarters. And close quarters is not a sales pitch. As you pay the minor entry fee and then amble down the winding dirt track at a top speed of 20 Km per hour, you are surrounded by zebra, wildebeest, and antelope of all shapes and sizes. A young giraffe lopes past, standing patiently as amateur photographers scramble for their cameras, and then peers into the vehicle to present his best side.

Zebra too look on curiously, and some antelope are too occupied to notice as you creep up, quietly, within ten feet. Then they look up, startled, and straight into the lens. Warthog families go snorting by, oblivious of the vehicles, while ostriches go about feeding, ignoring you. All kinds of African antelope - the shy Nyala, the imperious Waterbuck and the speedy Impala among others - amble around, feeding peacefully. Kragga Kamma does not have any carnivores, so life is easy.

The reserve also has white rhino and buffaloes, but sadly neither of the behemoths can be tracked, opting to take it easy in the thick brush.

LION’S DEN

But a game drive without the lions is a bit of a waste. So we head for the Seaview Game and Lion Park, another 10 minutes away. Here too are the usual animals, but one side of the reserve, is kept for lions. Not one nor two, but close to 30 lions, including four majestic males. It is feeding time when we reach and these animals are busy gorging themselves on buffalo meat. But still there is something missing. There is no hunting here, no tracking down of prey or vicious fights over the kill. Life is easy for these beasts too.

WATCH YOUR STEP

In the corner of a teashop in Seaview --- which is situated at quite a height and offers a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean -- is a little enclosed area. "Be careful as you go in, the fences are electrified," warns a warden. As you make your way through a perilously narrow path between thorny bushes and the electric fence, you come across the most incredible sight.

Strewn over a small shaded area are about 20 lion cubs --- all in deep slumber. You can touch them, pet them, scratch them as long as you like, they will not wake up. "They are so used to their brothers and sisters sleeping, or even walking all over them, that this does not bother them," says the warden.

Two out of them belong to the rarest breed, the white lion. These are not albinos, they are genetically sound animals, perfect in every way apart from the fact, that they are white. Only about 250 can be found in the world, and we were petting two of them.

One tyke did wake up, a mischievous looking female who took to sparring with us over a twig. It was all very well to keep her happy, as long as she had the twig. If you tried to get it off her, out come the teeth and claws, a gentle reminder that we were overstepping protocol in presence of the king of beasts.

First Published: Mar 10, 2003 11:26 IST