Lifestyle

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."

 

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Topics:  animals, lifestyle, south africa, wildlife



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