When you think about Mauritius, author Mark Twain’s rendering that “God created Mauritius first and then heaven” comes to mind. In other words, it’s more about kicking back and sipping piña coladas on shiny, golden beaches in paradisal surroundings in the minds of tourists than anything else.
But Mauritius’ touristic offering is becoming increasingly diverse and the island is starting to make more of a splash around the fact that it is – if not physically – a part of Africa.
So parks such as Casela Nature & Leisure Park, in the south of Mauritius, are offering a little dose of Africa in and around the island’s natural beauty.
As such, when I got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a stroll with Zaza and Mapara last weekend, I jumped at the chance.
With my heart beating rapidly, flanked by a trickle of minders and just a stick between me and 120 kilos of lion, I walked alongside two-year-old, 2.4-metres-tall Zaza. As I cautiously patted her on the back, buoyed by our guide, Jim, what a sight it was!
Together with a group of international tourists, who travelled from as far as China to meet, touch and walk with Zaza, from the Timbavati region of South Africa, and 11-month-old Mauritian-born Mapara, we stopped and – eyes agaze – watched as the two lions exercised and jumped 10 feet-high in the air to trap their dinner. It was a jaw-dropping sight – all within a couple of metres from us.
Once the lions are three years old, they will get to live and roam at the back of the park in their natural habitat. Until then they can feast on two dinners of 25kg-a-week – much more than they would be able to find in the wild.
It was a special, unforgettable morning – and one that many of the nearly 1m tourists who flock to ‘Paradise Island’ every year should check out.