August 4, 2008

Student’s Summer Highlighted By Lion Cubs AN UPDATE ON YAZ: Spotsylvania County Teen’s Summer Job: Cuddling With Lions at South African Wildlife Park

By Jeff Branscome, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

Aug. 4--Kelsey Walsh volunteered at a South African lion park for two weeks this summer and has the scars to prove it.

"One of my pairs of jeans was slightly eaten by a lion," said Walsh, 18, of Spotsylvania County.

Actually, the lion cub clawed at a small hole in her pants and ripped it open even more. It wasn't cause for alarm, just another play day at the Seaview Game and Lion Park near Port Elizabeth.

"They're not trying to be mean, but they think you're a cub," said Walsh, who graduated from Fredericksburg Academy and will attend Christopher Newport University in the fall.

The park has about 60 lions and more than 40 species of wildlife, including wildebeests and giraffes. It breeds white lions, which became extinct in the wild in 1994, according to the Global White Lion Protection Trust.

Walsh said her older brother, Brendan, encouraged her to take off a year after high school to travel. But she opted for the two-week trip in June to South Africa after considering options such as a dolphin conservation program in Greece.

"I've never met anyone who could say, 'Well, for two weeks, I cuddled with lions,'" she said.

Some days, she woke up at 5:30 a.m. to help the baby lions relieve themselves and then gave them bottles of milk, egg yolks and powdered gelatin.

She also took the animals for 10-minute strolls. "You just open the gate, and they run out," she said.

At playtime, some of the lions tussled with truck tires or hung from trees.

"I liked them all," Walsh said. "They're hilarious."

She grew especially fond of a 7-month-old white lion named Makulu, who fell out of trees often.

Leo, a baby white lion, also grew on her. She said he sometimes fell asleep while being bottle-fed.

"He had a yellow pacifier that he sucked on," she said. "He was like a human."

The young lions did bite, but they backed off when Walsh said "Ouch!" and tapped them on the nose. She wasn't allowed to interact with adult lions.

The worst part of her job was cutting up small cubes of horse, cow or pig meat, she said. Still, she knew she made the right choice the day she arrived, when she quickly found out how the park got its name.

"You just keep driving a little bit, and, all of the sudden, you hit the coast of the Indian Ocean," she said. It's not uncommon to see dolphins and whales swimming in the sea.

Walsh worked with volunteers from Israel, Holland, Norway, England and Brazil. Her parents, Steven and Lisa, funded the $4,000 trip.

"I'm not a worrier," her mom said.

Outside of the park, Walsh bungee jumped, walked with elephants and posed for pictures with a cheetah. She said she took about 200 pictures her last day at the refuge.

"Why would you pass up on an amazing opportunity like that?"


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