Around 3 months and upwards until 18 months old: the cubs are taken on walks in the bush to help them become familiar with their natural surroundings. At 18 months to 2½ years human contact is removed and they are given the opportunity to hone their hunting skills by taking part in Night and Day Encounters in a safe and secure environment (fenced off, no humans).
The lions are released in a pride into a large enclosure where they can start to live as a wild pride, hunting and fending for themselves. They are closely monitored for research purposes; there is no human contact or intervention.
The pride is relocated to a larger area, where they will spend the rest of their lives. This area is big enough to have many different species in it, including competitive ones. In this stage, the pride breeds cubs which will experience no human intervention.
Cubs born in Stage 3 will be raised by the pride in a totally natural environment, and when old enough, can be relocated into those areas of Africa that need them.
Lion Encounter offers daily lion walks, short term volunteering (for those who only have limited time to spare but want to get behind the scenes) or longer term volunteering with our partners at African Impact for those with the time to really get stuck in.
Lion Encounter offers short-term volunteering with both our lion project and also with our programs in the communities surrounding Victoria Falls. Contact us for enquires.
Our lions are bred in accordance with the Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Program, which means that we breed them to go into release prides. The lion walks that we offer as a tourist activity are only a small part of the project, as human contact is removed thereafter. Once the lions reach approximately 18 months, they proceed to the second phase of Stage 1 to hone their hunting skills.
First and foremost, lion walks offer the public the opportunity to learn about Africa’s lions, and gives us the chance to increase awareness of their plight. Our program mimics exactly how a young cub would be acclimatized to the bush in the wild. This is why our staff, volunteers and guests act as members of the pride. It would be unnatural for young cubs to be in the bush alone – they are simply too young. The purpose of our lion walks is to help familiarize the cubs with their surroundings, and our staff’s role in them, particularly, is to be protective and dominant members of the pride.
Our project also has a number of operational expenses; for example, a release site can cost in the region of $500,000, not to mention the cost of feeding the lions and veterinary bills, and daily running costs. As a self-funded project, our guests and volunteers provide much-needed income, without which we would never be able to succeed as a release project.
Finally, our staff and volunteers conduct vital research integral to the success of our release prides and our final release stages.
Lion Encounter has a sister project in Zimbabwe called Antelope Park, near the town of Gweru. Antelope Park has a program built specifically for the purposes of breeding cubs for the release project. The Lion Encounter Victoria Falls project receives its cubs from here.
Absolutely not. Our lions are treated as naturally as possible and need their teeth and claws to eat and kill!
The cubs are hand-reared only for the first few months, and while this has been a concern, our experience has proven that hand-rearing has not affected their ability to hunt and kill – the hunting instinct is natural and being raised by humans does not eradicate their instincts. Some guests have even seen our lion cubs hunt while on their walks. Our lions in release stages have successfully killed and hunted for food themselves.
Our program has two Stage 2 release sites, one operated by Antelope Park in Zimbabwe and the other operated by Wildlife Encounter in Livingstone. Currently, lions born in our release stages have not yet reached the age where they can be successfully released into the wild. We are currently preparing sites for a Stage 4 release to ensure that when these lions reach appropriate age, they will be released successfully into Stage 4.
Please see the ALERT website for more information about our progression towards a Stage 4 release.
We do not hide the fact that we are a commercial operation – we’re proud that our activities fund a conservation project. We’re a commercial program with a purpose. There has to be a business aspect to our work, as the lions have to eat and personnel with considerable training need to be employed. The infrastructure for release sites is also expensive to put into place, ensuring that the area is properly fenced to protect the lions inside from being illegally hunted and to protect local communities on the outside. In addition, where necessary, the release site needs to be stocked with suitable game. Our program also makes donations to community groups for a variety of conservation and community development programs as well as donating to ALERT directly to further its work. Our lions are bred and managed for the purposes of the conservation project, it is the reason we exist. Opening up the lion walking activity to volunteers and paying guests allows us to realistically achieve our goals and also helps us spread awareness of the plight of the African Lion.
We do not allow any human/animal contact on lion walks, except when a safe, manageable opportunity arises. At this time, our knowledgeable staff will show you how and where a lion may be touched, and assist you to take photos so you have lasting memories of the experience!
We cannot guarantee that the opportunity will occur, as our cubs are not drugged or trained to act like pets. However, lions are naturally sociable and lazy and therefore more often than not the chance does arise to touch one.
Yes, transfers to the project from accommodation within Victoria Falls town is included. Some guests staying in accommodation that is outside of the transfer route or too far from Lion Encounter may need to arrange transfers with their lodge or hotel. Booking agents will advise if this is needed when booking.
None, they are exactly the same. However, the cubs’ activity does vary according to how hot or cold it is, or what mood they’re in!
No, our program is solely focused on the African lion, Panthera Leo, whose 80 to 90 percent decline in population and vulnerable status is the reason for our projects’ existence. It is important to note that all of Lion Encounter’s activities are operated for the purposes of the Rehabilitation and Release into the Wild Program. The purpose of which is to provide our captive born cubs as many opportunities as possible to be in their natural environment. This means that we do not breed cubs or house any other species for the purposes of attracting tourists.
We are open 24/7 all year round. The cubs don’t take holidays, so neither do we! Obviously peak season (June to September) can be very busy and it is wise to book in advance.
In the event of rain, we reschedule for the next available walk. If this is not possible within your travel itinerary, you will be fully refunded. During light rain it may be possible for the walk to go ahead, however, the respective management will determine at the time of the walk.
Your agent will advise you on what to wear – long trousers, closed shoes, neutral bush colours, and not to have any dangly items such as belts or scarves that the cubs might want to play with! Unfortunately, anyone wearing skirts or bright colours will not be allowed on the walk. Do bring your camera, water, sunscreen, and mosquito repellent. You can lock away any other personal items for safekeeping for the duration of the lion walk. You will also be advised of any other safety regulations that you will need to follow upon your arrival at Lion Encounter.
Once you have made your booking, whether it is with us directly or through another agent, you will be informed of a pick-up time from your accommodation or meeting point to the Lion Encounter project. Transfers include return journey.
You will be with other guests (maximum of 10 per walk) and escorted by scouts, lion handlers and guides. Upon your arrival, you will receive a safety briefing, and throughout the walk itself our handlers and guides are required to be vigilant as to the cubs’ behaviour and your personal safety.
Yes, there will be a DVD of your walk available for purchase. However, photos are not available so we do encourage you to bring along your camera.