Libby has answered the call of wild

Libby shares a quiet moment with Skyla, the two-year-old white lion.
Libby shares a quiet moment with Skyla, the two-year-old white lion. Contributed

LIFE is pretty tame for Libby Cass.

But up until recently it wasn't - and she has the scars to prove it.

For four weeks, Libby, 23, spent every waking hour working with the big cats in Seaview Lion Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Volunteering at one of the biggest parks in the southern hemisphere brought the young woman face to face with animals she'd never dreamed she'd get to see at such close quarters, let alone play with - especially when that play had the potential to end badly.

"I was working with Judas the lion and she jumped up on me, wrapped her front legs around me and was cuddling me with her claws," Libby said.

"She was just playing but I had big scratches on my back."

Libby came across the park on the internet and volunteered in a flash.

"You pay to go and work there. It's almost completely run by volunteers. There are only five paid staff, the volunteers do everything.

"It's a park you can drive through - it has giraffe, zebra and wildebeest. It's more like a zoo but they don't call it that."

Libby worked with all of the animals on a three-day roster - tigers one day, lions the next and hyenas on day three, with all the other animals "squished into the roster as well".

Volunteers sleep four to a cabin with breakfast and lunch provided. Dinner is up to them to prepare.

"One day we got 12 new volunteers. Nine of them were Israeli, but none of them knew each other. I shared my cabin with a Canadian girl and a Chinese girl and there were some Americans there as well. And not only young people. There was a lady who was 78 and others in their 30s-40s.

"It's hard work - you can't go there if you're not able or prepared to work."

A typical day for Libby started at 7am with feeding the animals.

After a quick breakfast for the volunteers, it was then project time - doing things that needed doing around the park like painting or building platforms - until 1pm, then an hour for lunch with animal time from 2-5pm.


Libby got to know and love the park's two hyenas which were brought in from another animal park when they were three weeks old.
Libby got to know and love the park's two hyenas which were brought in from another animal park when they were three weeks old.

"We just rotated through the animals so we got to see them all throughout a day. Then we fed them at 5pm," she said.


"Feeding lions and tigers is amazing. Some of the tigers are only 11 months old so they still got fed from bottles. The lions would get thrown legs of meat. When I first started, it was a bit confronting. You'd open the fridge and there'd be horses' heads and things you didn't really want to see hanging there. People donate their old animals for food which saves the park a lot of money."

As if just being in Africa wasn't exciting enough, Libby says working with the animals was mind blowing.

"It didn't feel real at first. For the first five days I couldn't believe I was patting and feeding a lion. I thought, "Oh my God, it's really happening". Then it all became so familiar and I didn't want to leave.

If she had to choose, Libby would say Sho Sho the 300kg tiger was her favourite.

"I got into the cage with Sho Sho and got to feed him. Normally volunteers wouldn't feed him but one of the paid workers asked if I'd like to.

"And I loved the meerkats. Most people are only there two weeks but when you're there longer, as I was, you get given an animal you have to spend more time with.

"I volunteered for the meerkats because they were just really different. They're inquisitive and try and dig in your pocket and they have a look around if someone walks past. I loved them. I was Meerkat Mummy."

While Libby was getting down and dirty with the big cats, her mum Jenny was home in Gympie following her adventures via phone.

"Mum was excited for me because she knew it was something I'd always wanted to do but she was a bit worried about me too, especially when I rang her and told her I got attacked by a lion!"

A few scratches haven't put her off though.

"I'd go back in a second. I'd like to go back next year because they're hoping to have some new tiger cubs. As I left, they were also hoping one of the leopards was pregnant."

Not surprisingly, Libby found it hard to settle down when she got home.

"I struggled for the first few days just from doing something so amazing then coming back to reality. It was weird not getting to wake up and play with lions," she laughed.

"Our cabins were beside the lions and they'd roar all night. It's so quiet here at home - unfortunately we don't have any lions at home. The cat will have to do. He looked so funny when I came home - so little."


>> To read more lifestyle stories

Topics:  animals lifestyle south africa wildlife

Don't close the gates on our history

NOT HAPPY: The Gillespie clan want to see the original Glengallan Homestead gates returned to the historical site. Pictured: Barbara Gaden, Susan Gaden, Adam Bayes, Sarah Bayes, Julia Gilroy, Jill Wrathcall, Peter Ryall, Jenny McMurray and Bob Gaden.

Calls are being made to return the Glengallan Homestead gates.

The case of the wandering Shetland Pony

The Warwick Pound.

Now, she wants to know, is it yours?

Massive closing down sale at RM Williams Warwick

Today is the last day RM Williams will be open in Warwick.

Local Partners

Australia Day Award nominations now open

ALL those who know someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the Warwick community is encouraged to nominate them for an Australia Day Award.

Former Split Enz front man Tim Finn finds new niche

Singer Tim Finn has written the music for theatre production Ladies in Black.

Musician finds his way to theatre

Former Warwick State High student is second

Victorian rider and former Warwick High student Lee Kimber (right) goes for his beast at the Warwick Rodeo.

Former Warwick High student to compete in national finals

13 things to do on the Southern Downs this weekend

Darcy Meek (left) is the early leader in parkrun on Saturday before being first man home.

Photo Gerard Walsh / Warwick Daily News

Here's a list of 13 things to do this weekend.

Azealia Banks won't take legal action against Russell Crowe

Rapper Azealia Banks

Rapper drops legal action against Russell Crowe

Brad Pitt meets with his kids amid divorce proceedings

Actor Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt has met up with his oldest son Maddox

Pictures of Taylor Swift allegedly being groped are sealed

They could "complicate jury selection".

Bruce Springsteen finds therapy useful

Singer Bruce Springsteen

Singer encourages others to seek help

Kerry Washington wants one more child

Kerry Washington recently gave birth to her second child

Kerry has only just become a new mum again

TRAVEL: Musicals light up Sydney

David Campbell performs in Dream Lover.

We take a trip through one of Sydney's finer scenes

Hit songwriter's Noosa mansion on market

SPECIAL PLACE: The Cintamani estate is going to tender, marketed by Tom Offermann Real Estate.

Is this Queensland's best property?

Kiwi siblings snap up Dotcom mansion for $32.5m

The new toy company owners of the Coatesville mansion want replace any controversy with positivity and fun. Photo / Barfoot and Thompson

The trio paid $32.5 million for the property in June

New $200 million development will create 580 jobs

Cassie And Josh with baby Alfie and daughter Andee. They have bought at new Lennox Head development Epiq.

Majority of new positions will be given to Northern Rivers locals

Cherrabah's mega resort plans axed

PLANS for a massive development at Cherrabah have been scrapped.

What our mayor thinks of the new draft SEQPlan

The plan to use the innovative technology as part of the new Maroochydore CBD was cemented on site today when Mayor Mark Jamieson and Envac Asia Region president Chun Yong Ha formally signed the contract for the $20 million underground waste collection system.

New plan accommodates Sunshine Coast Council's vision for growth.

Dusit Thani finance crisis 'just a small hiccup'

ON TRACK: Springfield Land Chairman, Maha Sinnathamby, Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale, Developer Richard Turner and Springfield Land Deputy Chairman, Bob Sharpless, at the recent resort sod turning ceremony.

Property developer says project remains firmly on track