By Rochelle Mutton
Boskoppie Lion Lodge
Coated in the softest of fur with big doe-like eyes, the two-month and three-month-old lion and tiger cubs prance at the sight of new visitors to the Boskoppie Lion Lodge, in South Africa’s Free State.
But beware, these cubs know how to rumble, unleashing their coiled energy in rollicking attacks using baby teeth and oversized, clawed mitts as big as a human palm. By the time their adoptive mum Ingrid Swart caught up with me in the pen, I had been outmanoeuvred.
“Oh, when they get naughty like that, give them a smack on the nose,” she says. “It’s what a mummy lioness would do.”
I gingerly reach down to one of the tiger cubs, swinging by his teeth off my safari pants, and tentatively bop his nose. Instantly the cub drops to the ground in submission. The others follow suit, and settle for rubbing against my leg and being picked up and stroked. They then find some tap water pooling on the ground and make sport of rolling in the mud, reminding guests of why they should wear old clothes in their play-pen.
Boskoppie Lion Lodge is a big cat-breeding centre, with lion, tiger, jaguar, caracal and cheetah in the farming centre of Kroonstaad. While the big breeding males are majestic, it’s the cubs that steal the show. Swart is one of the few breeders to allow tourists to handle young cubs.
Time your visit right, and there may be cubs at a more innocent age – three to six weeks – where they’re content to suckle from a bottle. All the big cats get their main weekly feed on a Sunday – a guaranteed spectacle.
Entry fee: $14. Lion feeding, 4pm Sundays. Overnight stays, $50.
Tel: (+27) 82 776 6779