Every year they lighten the mood and brighten the province
Drakenstein Lion Park in Paarl
Watch rescued lions and tigers feast and frolic at this Cape Winelands refuge
There is only one thing more spellbinding than watching the emperors of the animal kingdom slink slowly through bushes and grass: watching them shut their powerful, hungry jaws around sizeable chunks of meat. And at the Paarl-based Drakenstein Lion Park, a sanctuary for rescued captive-born cats that very few Capetonians even know exists, it’s possible to do both while supporting a worthy cause.
The 50-acre safe haven, which was established by animal lover Paul Hart in 1998, not only gives visitors the incredibly special opportunity to view lions (including the white variety) and Bengal tigers from up close, but to witness them being fed bucket loads of grub three days of the week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 4pm).
While a heady experience for grown-ups, viewing this feasting frenzy is nothing short of magical for Western Cape kiddies, who have likely never laid eyes on one of these kingly beasts before, let alone observed one dine.
All of the majestic creatures that little ones will meet at the refuge were saved from zoos, circuses, illegal pet trades and canned hunting rings where they were typically violently mistreated – as just two examples, there’s Brutus, a gorgeous male lion who was declawed and beaten so badly at a French circus that his face is permanently disfigured, and then there’s Suzanna, a feisty lioness who lived out the earlier part of her life in a 4x4m concrete jail at a Romanian zoo. And while it’s sad to see these kings of the wild dwelling in fenced-in areas, it’s comforting to know that the walls of the large sanctuary have given the felines a new chance at life. Not to mention, the structure of the park – the cats roam in huge natural enclosures connected by various walkways – means that guests are bound to enjoy a few brilliant sightings.
“We can’t guarantee you’ll see all of them...I mean, there are 37 in total,” says General Manager Elzette Lategan, who has a very special relationship with a few particular park characters, “but you’ll definitely see cats”.
And of course, the longer you stay, the more you’ll see (you’ll even start discerning the lions’ distinct personalities), and visitors are welcome to linger around and bask in the beauty of the Drakenstein inhabitants for as much time as they want. There are outdoor tables and benches scattered throughout the retreat, so patrons can bring picnic baskets and snack while the regal creatures roam in the background. Plus, staff members are always wandering about, so although guests are encouraged to do their own self-guided tour of the venue, there are plenty people available to ask any pressing questions.
If there is lots of time left, you could even take the young’uns down to the neighbouring Chimp Haven, which was founded to offer a lifetime home to various adorable animals – chimpanzees, marmosets, capuchins, wallabies, black swans, antelope and caracals – displaced when the Tygerberg Zoo closed. While all are great to watch, the monkeys, thanks to their human-like idiosyncrasies (apparently they love Nik Naks and enjoy watching Finding Nemo when it rains), are sure to excite and enchant kiddies for hours on end.
They’re just another highlight of the Drakenstein experience, which promises adults and toddlers alike an unforgettable day out. The bottom line is, whether you manage to make it in the late afternoon for the lion feedings or you arrive in the morning when the soft sunlight bounces of flicking tails and twitching ears, you’re bound to have a roaring good time.
Tip: If you and your kids want to get more involved with the safekeeping of the lions, you could always ‘adopt’ one as a family and help to cover food, veterinary and housing costs. Also, if you’re keen to witness the chimpanzees being fed (they get super excitable), arrive at Chimp Haven at around 11:30am any day of the week.
The Bill: It costs next to nothing to watch these glorious creatures in action. The admission fee is R50p/p for adults and R25p/p for children to enter either the lion sanctuary or Chimp Haven; otherwise, it’s possible to purchase a combo ticket for both facilities at R80p/p for adults or R40p/p for kids.
Opening Hours: Lion Sanctuary:Monday – Sunday: 9:30am – 5pm; Chimp Haven: Monday – Sunday: 9:30am – 4:30pm
Old Paarl Road (R101) | Paarl | +27 (0)21 863 3290
On the lookout for other child-friendly activities in and around Cape Town? Consult our overview of 50 great things to do with kids in the Western Cape.
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