Written and photographed by Hilette Hatting
Out of the distance, two lions come running. One has strikingly long blonde ‘hair’ that cascades in the wind, the other a kind of dominance and an air around him. Their big paws produce clouds of dust as they dash towards you.
Chuck and Norris, now three-and-a-half years old, didn’t always have such a carefree life – and probably would not have had a life at all if the Daniell Cheetah Project (DCP) hadn’t stepped in with financial support from Symba Wildlife Conservation (SWC), who’d decided to save the lions and give them a permanent home at the DCP farm in Kirkwood, Eastern Cape.
Cubs in danger
At a mere two weeks old, in June 2012, people contacted DCP about two lion cubs who didn’t have a mother. They could not get the babies to drink from a bottle; they needed help or else the little ones would not survive. DCP agreed to assist for a couple of months to get the cubs to a proper weight, healthy, and in good condition.
However, upon investigation, DCP discovered to their horror that these cubs would later be sold for canned hunting. They immediately contacted the parties involved and told them that they would not return the cubs. A ‘custody’ battle ensued. Eventually it was decided that DCP could only get the cubs if they bought them.
They were at their wits’ end; they didn’t have the funds or the space to get the cubs away from those monsters but they simply could not let them be murdered by so-called hunters. That’s when an American woman volunteering at DCP stepped in; she subsequently founded Symba Wildlife Conservation (SWC). DCP, SWC, and Wild Cats World (a Dutch non-profit organisation dedicated to rescuing captive wild cats) joined hands and rescued the brothers from an inhumane death. They had to ultimately buy the cubs to save them, but saving meant saving no matter the means or money…
The brothers’ beautiful home
A big enclosure was built on DCP property, complete with a splash pool and toys, which brothers Chuck and Norris now call their home. Norris, blonde, vivacious and a little fluffy, is a character of his own. He is the more playful of the two and has a cheeky twitch in his eyes and a tail that cannot be missed. Chuck, the more dominant of the brothers, is tall, dark and very handsome. He’s more composed but also a bit naughty. They currently weigh in at around 200kg each.
The brothers absolutely love water. The staff taught them to get into the splash pool by throwing little stones into it. They would chase the stones (like any other curious cats) and eventually realised that the water was quite nice. They also have a giant ball that Norris often tries to stand and balance on; so far he has managed to have three paws on the ball at the same time with the fourth keeping him steady on the ground.
The brothers run every time they see the bakkie as they know it’s time for food; they also love the sound of Harley-Davidson motorcycles – the sound is about the same frequency as their roar – and they roar and call whenever such a bike goes by. They enjoy a bit of chicken and almost catch it out of the air if it’s thrown into their enclosure. Each brother immediately puts his paws around his food in an almost praying gesture, which creates a certain sadness within you since there are so many lions out there not privileged to see the sun rise the next day.
Sadly, Chuck and Norris cannot go back into the wild. However, they’re helping to educate the public about the horrors of canned hunting. They will never be used for any sort of breeding and will probably spend the rest of their lives at DCP, roaring at Harleys and cooling off in their pool.
They are both beautiful, to say the least, and unique – and seem grateful for being rescued. There is a great bond between these brothers, and the staff love them as well. Speaking to Maxie Van Wyk, staff member and tour guide at DCP for seven years and current board member with Symba Wildlife Conservation, you quickly learn that nothing is impossible for this organisation. Their love for animals is tremendous and even though they were only able to save two lions today, educating the public about canned hunting could save even more lives tomorrow.
The Daniell Cheetah Project is based near Kirkwood in the Eastern Cape. Founded in 2001 with just three cheetahs, the organisation is now home to several leopards, cheetahs, servals, black-footed cats, caracals, the lion brothers – and a few meerkats. Their cheetah-breeding programme is aimed at preserving this beautiful wild cat species. They also offer tours of the farm designed to educate visitors. For more information, visit www.daniellcheetahproject.com, follow them on Facebook at ‘Daniell Cheetah Project’ and on Twitter at ‘@Daniellcheetah’, and watch their videos on their YouTube channel.