Nevertheless, safety is taken seriously at Lion Encounter, which is essential as the current walking lions are not little cubs anymore but more like unruly teenagers testing their limits and their human pride-mates’ patience. This was the first of two training and safety walks we were required to participate in, the second one focusing on dominance with the 2Ds. During these walks we listened, we observed, and we took turns practicing some basic maneuvers. On subsequent walks throughout our stay the ever-watchful lion handlers would correct, reprimand, and sometimes compliment us on how we interacted with the lions when they, or we, misbehaved.
The only male walking lion, Madoda is quite the handsome fellow. With his laid-back attitude he is the most consistently approachable of this group. On our first walk he was so relaxed that several of us even had the pleasure to experience what a lion lick feels like; which is rough as you might imagine but not as rough as I expected, although my hand remained red for the better part of the day. Munali and Zambezi, his two gorgeous lioness cohorts, often wanted nothing more than to find some shade to escape the blazing Zambian sun, but like most adolescent girls they also displayed their independent spirit and their mood swings. They were also more attuned to the sights and sounds of the bush than Madoda, which is not surprising as lionesses are typically the ones to bring home the bacon, so to speak. The girls could be a handful at times for the staff, but more often than not Madoda would trot along with our entourage like a faithful puppy dog – always happy to get some extra attention, which we were ever eager to give to him.