Mini-Safari at the Lion Park

Getting up close to a lion at the Lion Park in Johannesburg

[Note: The Lion Park has recently gotten negative news for the practice of breeding lion cubs that are later sold to game farms to be used in canned hunts. Most visitors – like me at the time – don’t know about that darker side behind the faces of those cute cubs, so perhaps before you visit you’d like to inform yourself. Here is a start: About Cecil and those Cute Baby Lions]

If you’ve got visitors scheduled like we do this year, you can’t go on a safari every single time, but you can easily take them up close to some of the big animals, for a fraction of the cost. I’ve already told you about the Cheetah Centre at de Wildt, but another good way to do this, and even closer to Joburg, is a visit at the Lion Park, just about 15 minutes from where we live on the way to Lanseria. Granted, it’s not quite the same, and nothing compares to the real safari and game drive experience, but most of our guests were pretty thrilled to see and even pet lions.

I took our American friend Chet there recently when he dropped in (and delivered lots of goodies for the Alexandra baseball team!). We both got a chuckle at the gate, where there is one single warning sign telling you not to roll down your windows because lions are dangerous animals. No indemnity form, no further admonition. It’s easy to be lulled into thinking these lions are harmless, because the most common way you’ll see them is asleep, but don’t be fooled. People can be – and occasionally are – killed by lions, very easily. I still shudder when I think back to the fenced-in pathways in Madikwe taking you from your cabin to the toilet (the rest of the camp wasn’t fenced in) should you have the urge at night. I never had the urge, trust me.

You won’t really need your big lens at the Lion Park


If it wasn’t for the sign, we would have gotten a better view of this lion!



I love how he stood guard over her while she was drinking

As Chet and I were driving along and snapping glare-filled pictures through the windows, I thought I’d impress him with with my safari and wildlife know-how accumulated over the course of our year in Africa. I elaborated on the habits of lions and was just saying “lions don’t actually climb trees.” “Uhm – I think they do,” said Chet and pointed. Sure enough, there was a white lion giving us a very fine tutorial on how lions in fact do climb trees, up and down and up and down. (There goes my plan to climb up a tree if I’m every pursued by a lion).



You won’t only see lions at the Lion Park. There are also cheetahs and wild dogs, giraffes, hyenas, and a variety of different antilopes.




The highlight of our lion park visit was when we got to pet the lion cubs. It’s a unique experience. They look like kittens and play like kittens, but sizewise they are more like dogs. And not the small kind of dog either. It’s best to pet them on their backs or chests, not like a cat on the head or cheeks. They don’t like that, and will take a swipe at you with one of their paws or even nip you. Another interesting fact (our family is always good at learning about the potty facts) is that lions, unlike house cats, don’t bury their poop. At least these ones didn’t, as was evidenced by little mounds here and there that emitted a very unpleasant odor, to put it mildly.

White lion cubs at play



Sunshine has a way with animals


An inquisitive lion cub

Only so  many people are let into the cub enclosure at a time, and several volunteers are always present to tame cubs that have gotten too hyper. After us, a group of Japanese tourists got their turn and the poor volunteers had their hands full “rescuing” various people from the cubs. It was a very entertaining display.




I can definitely recommend the Lion Park in Joburg if you’re just passing through and don’t have all that much time, or if you just need to get the kids out of the house. Our older kids didn’t want to go, but the younger ones enjoyed it. Prices for our visit were R130 per adult and R70 per child, with discounts for additional children after the first one.

phone: 011 691 9905
Open year-round 8:30-17:00

This article is part of Joburg Expat’s What To Do in Joburg series. 

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