A long time ago, when I was but a little child, my parents took me to the Lion Park to see the lions. I’ve never gone back since then. Not that I haven’t wanted to, I just never got around to doing it.
A couple of weeks ago I decided I had to go sooner or later. When my wife told me that she remembered being able to hear the lions roar on a quiet day, I decided I really needed to go. After all, I’d never heard a lion roar. If they could be heard in Piassa, imagine how nice it would be to hear one roar up close and personal.
So when Saturday came around last week, I headed to the Lion Park with my old friend (and Best Man) Danny and my new friend Matthew.
What is the Lion Park?
The Lion Park is actually called the Lion Zoo. I only noticed this yesterday on my way to work. It’s a small zoo at Sidist Kilo in Addis Ababa that’s home to 19 adult lions and 4 young ones – two males and two females. There are nine other animals at the zoo including Gelada baboons, Lesser Kudu, turtles and Egyptian Geese. The lions are the main attraction.
The zoo is a small oasis of green in a city that’s increasingly becoming less green. Apparently it used to be the place for couples to hang out once upon a time.
The zoo was founded in 1940, Ethiopian Calendar (that’s 1947 for the rest of the world), and started off with a couple of lion cubs – Molla and Lulu – that were donated by the Emperor Haile Selassie.
Here’s some of the information from a sign inside the zoo:
Lion Zoo built in 1940 EC by Emperor Haile Selassie.
Lions collected from Western and Southern Ethiopia (Wollega, Elubabur and Sidamo)
What we found at the zoo
We got to the zoo at around 10 in the morning. Entry was 1 Birr per person. Matthew had to pay 10 Birr because he forgot to bring his resident ID card and his Australian accent gave him away as a foreigner. I paid the 20 Birr for my camera only to find out that I had 4 shots left. Someday I must get myself a digital SLR.
Danny and I had to pay 1 Birr again to get closer to the lions. Matthew’s 10 Birr covers everything (except coffee at the café). We then proceeded to walk around and admire the lions. There are 10 enclosures, each with a pair of lions – male and a female – except for one lone female whose mate recently died. I must say that they are beautiful creatures. These lions are Panthera Leo Barbari – called black lions because the males have black manes. It is thought that this sub-species is endemic to Ethiopia. The manager informed us that a study by Max Planck University has almost confirmed this theory. There are only an estimated 500-1000 of these beautiful creatures left in the wild.
The lions all have names. Wubnesh Chala and her mate were my favourite. They seemed closer to each other than the other pairs and would come near the bars and pose for us humans. There was another lion with dreadlocks that grabbed our attention and there was even a geeky one with his mane parted down the middle.
We stuck around for the feeding of the lions. I highly recommend visiting at around 11:30 so you can catch the action. Sleepy lions get up and pace their cells. One lioness rapidly paced her enclosure and every time she got to one end would stand on her hind legs. Photographers repeatedly used the opportunity to get nice pictures of the backs of children’s heads as they turned to look at the lioness behind them.
The two young males, Kenenisa and Haile, love posing too. I repeatedly kicked myself (in my head) for running out of film before feeding time. It’s the lions’ excitement before they get their food that’s interesting to see. A lion eating meat is pretty boring to watch. I even overheard an old man complaining that these lions had no teeth before he turned around and left.