Little Yellow Ball of String - A Travel Tale from a South African Game Park

As a living Australian citizen yet a true born South African in heart I have seen much of Southern Africa including the Kalahari, Miremi and Serengeti. I'd been to the wildest of the African plains and slept amongst the screeching, roaring wildlife in nothing but a 2cm thick canvas tent. That's the reason why never in my life I thought that taking my friend on her first time visit to Africa to the local lion park could turn out to be my wildest of all experiences.

A few weeks before Christmas, my boyfriend Stef, my all Aussie gold girlfriend Carnie and myself set of in an old yellow Volkswagen beetle in a pitiful attempt to show Carnie a bit of the African famous fauna. So to one of our local lion parks (no names mentioned) we set to hunt out the kings of the jungle.

As we arrived we were handed an indemnity form saying that any damage to us, our property was our own risk. The animals we are about to view are dangerous and any wreckless behavour could even result in death. We chuckled to ourselves at the thought of our little yellow beetles and whether the lions would think we were a pretty little lioness to court with or whether we would look like just a rolling little yellow ball of string.

The latter turned out to be truer than I ever could imagine. After finishing up in the lion enclosure we were waiting patiently in line to enter into the wild dogs. Suddenly without any provocation 5 lions and a lioness playfully came running from a far distance to our car. To see them this close was a wonderful experience, we turned our engine off as they walked around the car boldly.

They were so close that we could smell them, we could actually see the ticks on their underneath. Being in the beetle with its rounded little windows was like being in an aquarium and these lions were close enough to touch. Carnie, not at all intimidated, sat saying aw hello pretty kitties.

However I on the contraire wouldn't say I was comfortable- put a bloody kitty next to that and see the size difference. Then lions seemed too intrigued by us, they circled us, they started sniffing the car. Then they started licking the back right wheel. We thought that maybe they could smell dog pee and were curious about it. The licking persisted and then the car began to rock which is when we realized not only were they licking the tyres now they were chewing them.

Stefano quickly turned the engine on at this stage but as soon as he did they became aggressive looking at us inside the beetle. So he turned it off again and we sat still now hardly breathing. As they bit and locked their jaws around the rubber they would drag their heads and even with both breaks on the car was getting dragged metres at a time along with them. The lions kept rocking and dragging us with their chews and gauges until sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss and drop the tyre popped and now the beetle lowered even further to the almighty force of these cats.

This is when I started crying. I was petrified. Carnie still found it quite comical maybe unaware of their strength and their capability to jump on the bonnet smash the windscreen with a paw and rip us out. They had no fear in their eyes, we were their ball of string and they were going to toy with us. They could taste our fear in the air and I could almost swear they loved it.

The destruction of the back right tyre left but the right one to pop. And so these two males, later found out the notoriously naughty ones pursued the right one till ssssssssssssssssss and yet again we sank in submission to them, us and our little yellow beetle. Now my panic mode had set in and I started searching my phone for the number of the lion park I had luckily stored earlier that day. In a hysterical voice I rang reception to reach a fairly quiet, middle aged, woman.

Crying into the phone all I could manage to tell her was that our car was getting eating by lions. I managed to communicate across our fair location and she told me two things. One, the rangers were on their way, and two to sit as still as possible and be as quiet as possible.

Relieved to hear the first I got off the phone and panicked at the sound of the second as I saw Stefano shouting at these lions who now were attempting the front right tyre and Carnie who was angrily cursing at tourists in the wild dog enclosure now crowding around to get a better look at Friday feeding time.

Trying to shut them up I reached a new stage of hysteria as I looked back to Carnie; consuming the background to her portrait were the underneath of two huge paws bigger than her head, two big yellow eyes and a drooling mouth with big lion breath fogging the glass. Turning my head in another direction I saw on her right window a lion lean in and slowly lick the glass with this sandwich sized tongue. Once again I frantically called reception to find how long still to wait, she just said they were coming and to stay calm.

I retracted into a little ball. Carnie's shaking arm reached through to lock my window and as Stef caught her eye she started crying as well. He stopped yelling at the lions and we gave up to them. We sat as they rocked our car, dragging it by the chewed tyres. I prayered that one wouldn't jump on the bonnet. I just prayed they'd leave us alone. Carnie apparently was sitting their trying to analyse whether with her low pain threshold it would be better to just stab herself with a stick rather than been chewed in those jagged meat reeking teeth and Stef well he didn't admit to any paranoid worries he just said he was scared.

45 minutes later the rangers turned up in game viewing vehicles and almost had to run the lions over to scare them off. Then they transferred Carnie and I into their car to take us to a safe kiosk whilst poor Stef was left with one guys to contend with changing the tyre. They took the car into another enclosure and used the spare for one and a tractor tyre for the other. The chewed tyres were ripped to shreds and covered in a silvery lion saliva. Carnie and I now at the kiosk were the public talk; however we hardly were in to mood to be laughed at as the ignorant tourists.

Back at the beetle Stef had finished with the wheels and was escorted to us. He had to go through the lion pen to reach us and as soon as he entered all five stood up again and started chasing the car. Luckily the rangers stopped this with their huge vehicles and he reached us, tractor tyre clunking along the bent fender. We were offered a free meal and noticed that a lion cub patting pen was nearby. We decided that we much rather give that a miss and head off home; shaken up, but completely alive to tell the tale.

An experience I would never ever want to live again, but an experience I would never ever take away. What could have happened, what wouldn't have happened, is all a debated issue now. But all in all, even with the knowledge that we would have made it home safely that night being a little yellow ball of string saturated under the eyes of six hungry lions can qualify for a real life horror film.

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