I visited a lion park down in Hamilton in the middle of the North Island in New Zealand in the 1970s and fell in love as I held onto a baby lion. He was very heavy but, my goodness, I did not want to let him go. He was utterly adorable.
I have mentioned in a previous blog that one of my most favourite set of books when I was about 7 years old, and still is today, is 'Born Free' written in 1960 and 'Living Free' written in 1961. It is the story of Elsa and her cubs by Joy Adamson and it ignited in me an intense love of cats, the bigger the better. I'd had a dream to work with them or at least pat one during my lifetime. The closest I had got to seeing them in their natural habitat was when I visited Kenya in the mid 1990s and got to stay at Kichwa Tembo. We got up very early and went on a drive from our camp right out onto the Serengeti Plains. It took all day and, just as a massive downpour was about to erupt, our driver spotted two cheetahs running after a hoped for meal. We were driving at nearly 110 km and we still couldn't get anywhere near them. It was an amazing sight, but we had to leave them because the torrential downpour sent us back to camp.
I visited Canberra Zoo 2009 with a dear friend to 'Meet the Cheetah' and it set my heart on fire, I got such a surprise to pat these beautiful animals and have them lick me and purr so loudly.
I was now on a mission to find out where I could travel to in Africa to either work with these magnificent cats or at least see them close up in their natural habitat. I found a place in South Africa and finally got to work with cheetahs, lions and wolves for one week. Unfortunately I did not have the time to spend longer there but it is one of the highlights of my life to have worked so closely with these wonderful animals. The wolves are so timid and extremely sensitive, so I was honoured when I sat down on the ground and they walked all around sniffing me then let me hug them. The days were long and very hot and, even though I lived in Sydney and come from Auckland, I found the heat more bearable in Africa, primarily because it was a dry heat and not humid. It was sheer magic to come home to our rondavel after work and relax in the pool staring up onto the clear moonlit African sky.
Here are some pictures of me in Hamilton Lion Park, New Zealand:
Me in Africa: