It had been quite a while since I’d been on a game drive, five years in fact, so when some friends and I decided to pay the Natal Lion Park a visit recently, I was looking forward to an exciting excursion into the rugged African bushveld. Situated just 25km from Pietermaritzburg and about 67km from Durban the Natal Lion Park is quickly accessible from either of these major centres, and we certainly enjoyed the drive with the surrounding countryside providing pleasant views all round.
The game drive itself consisted of a seven kilometre loop around the park with entrance fees ranging from R100 per car to R220 for a large bus. Considering that my friends and I were being given the opportunity to potentially view 11 species of mammals, 20 species of birds and 12 species of reptiles our R100 entrance fee seemed more than reasonable.
We began our one hour journey shortly after arriving and were soon scouring our surroundings trying to spot whatever animals we could. However, with the sun positioned almost straight overhead most of the animals had already sought shelter from the heat and were proving difficult to locate.
After about 15 minutes without seeing even a butterfly our luck changed when a couple of African Elephants appeared out of the bush and slowly made their way towards our vehicle. African Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world, with some specimens standing four metres tall and weighing as much as six tons. In the 10 years preceding an international ban in the ivory trade in 1990, an estimated 700,000 of these elephants were killed for their valuable tusks, which they use for stripping the bark off trees and for defence against predators. Since then their numbers have increased considerably although they are still listed as a vulnerable species due to the ever present threat of poaching.
These giants of the bushveld certainly seemed intimidating as they lumbered towards our car and considering they were a mother and her calf, I was more than a little nervous. Female elephants are very protective of their young and have been known to attack humans if they feel their young ones are under threat. Thankfully both mother and child were as calm as could be, lazily grazing next to our vehicle giving us the perfect opportunity to get some really good shots. Viewing these majestic animals up close in their natural surroundings was a great experience. They possess an uncanny combination of strength and grace that is simply awesome to behold and difficult to describe.
After bidding our elephant’s farewell we continued on our journey through the park, constantly scanning our surroundings in the hope of spotting more wildlife, but, with the exception of a lone Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, we weren’t able to locate anything. Although we were a little disappointed, we had the assurance that the park’s main attraction, namely its huge lions, would be unable to escape our attention.
At the Natal Lion Park, the lions at the park are kept in an open air enclosure situated right at the end of the game drive route, and visitors have access to them via a manned gate. We drove our vehicle into the enclosure and began to snap away, catching the lions in a variety of poses. It was quite something to view these huge predators from just a few metres away with only a few centimetres of window glass serving as protection if something was to go awry. Of course the chances of being harmed by these lions are pretty minimal considering they are well fed and very used to humans, but we were warned by park officials never to roll down our windows or to unlock our doors at any time whilst in the lion enclosure. After all, as friendly and tame as these big cats appeared to be, they are still wild animals and need to be treated with the utmost caution.
With nothing more to see we headed towards the exit to conclude what had been a most interesting morning out in the bush. We all agreed that although we had hoped to see more animals, we were more than happy with our findings. Encountering an African Elephant in the wild is something to behold and even if you aren’t lucky enough to come across one, the lions will always be on hand to keep you entertained.
Natal Lion Park Contact Details:
Telephone: +27 (0)31 785-4707 or cell +27 (0)83 640-2641
Address: Umlaas Road, Lynnfieldpark, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal.