Stacey and I had the amazing experience of volunteering for 10 days at Safari Park Zoo – one of my favorite experiences in our 101 days in SE Asia. As such, this calls for multiple posts! I started off with an introduction telling you a little bit about the Safari Park Volunteer program (which you can read here) and then there will be four posts giving a little bit more detail about different teams and animals you work with – today’s is the third and it’s all about working with leopards, lions & tigers.
I had one full day working on cubs, but multiple opportunities to go down and play with these little cuties. While I was there, they had lots of little leopard cubs and at the very end they brought up the cute little lion cub, Lelia. When you work with the cubs you’re front and center and working with customers for a lot of the day. Before the zoo opened we cleaned the cages to prepare for the cubs to be brought up for the day. Customers can pay to bottle feed the cubs, but they only give 1 ounce in those instances because they don’t want to over-feed the cubs. There’s a section of the younger cubs (I had six to work with at once) and then there are the next age up- only leopards. The larger lions and tigers get brought up to their own separate section.
How precious is this little face?
Feeding Leila was a whole different game. She is a lot bigger and harder to hold up, but she was such a doll! I have never been a cat person, so I didn’t know how to act with the cubs, but I quickly found myself becoming a cat-lady in training.
As adorable as these little cubs are, they’re not always all cute and cuddly. They still have their claws, of course and are quite the little nibblers! They love to jump and climb all over you and sink their teeth into your hair and flowy pants. Plus, if they pee or poo, you have to be quick to clean is up!
But I can’t pretend that it isn’t great regardless. Look at these cuties!
⋙ Big Cats in Safari
After cats leave the cubs area they go to the Big Cat Garden, and after that they go out to Safari. Below is one of the tigers in his enclosure ready for a meal, but the cats spend their days out roaming the Safari Area, which you can see as the safari bus goes through.
Here’s an example of us throwing the toys into the water so the lions can play! The toys are made from coconuts, twine and more. It’s really fun to watch them splash around and play.
This sweetheart sweetly sprayed me on my very first day… what a gem!
⋙ Big Cat Garden
The big cat garden is the next step up from cubs. In this area the cats continue their clicker training, get loads and loads of exercise from the volunteers and customers can also pay to walk a big cat. Playing with the cats started with me going in for about 10 minutes, then the next day I was able to go in for almost an hour. To really work with the big cats you have to volunteer for at least 4 weeks, but luckily you can always go down and help give exercise by playing with them.
Working with the cats is a really unique and special experience. This is something I would never be able to do in the states, so I really treasured these opportunities. Although, keeping animals in captivity isn’t the ideal situation for any animal, zoos are a part of our world and the volunteers & staff here are working very hard to make changes for the better. These animals are born in captivity and won’t be released, but through the various forms of enrichment, exercise and lots of love given to all the animals they’re making amazing strides towards making the lives of, not only the cats, but all the animals as full and good as possible. Tomorrow is my last post on the Safari Park Volunteer program and it’s all about one of my very favorite animals: elephants! Check back tomorrow!
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