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Naomi_Jamala lion
Life is too short to miss out on new experiences; routine can be wonderful but new things stimulate our creativity, conversation and the richness of life. 
What have you got on your ‘one day some day maybe’ list?… What is it that you have always wanted to do but have delayed because it is too far away, too expensive or you just don’t have the time. We are all given 24 hours in a day… how we choose to use them is the only difference.
Experiencing African animals was a ‘one day dream’ – not urgent – but it would be really amazing to experience. I thought to do so would mean flying to Africa and taking a photography safari.
Animals teach us about who we are… when we observe them we can see the responsibility we have to look after the planet, their eco-system – and the diversity of all things created.
I’ve always, always, always wanted to do a safari, perched on the back of a 4wD taking photos with a zoom lens but the truth is you wouldn’t be able to get as close and personal as you think you would. So when I was invited to be upfront, close and personal with the wilds of Africa without needing my passport, I jumped at the opportunity….
Jamala Wildlife Lodge in Canberra was born when in 1998, a local family started building a large zoo that housed animals in the most comfortable surroundings they could muster. As such, most of the enclosures are much larger than you would find elsewhere. As an advocate for Voiceless, this is something very close to my heart. That animals are treated as we would expect to be treated; that is with the greatest of respect, care and attention.
Imagine a bear in your living room or cheetahs in your bathroom? The closeness you get to those animals is like nothing I have ever experienced. Being in such close proximity to these magnificent creatures gives you a real appreciation for their character, their individualism and their powerfulness – that is quite an experience, and you wouldn’t get that impression through a camera lens on the back of a 4Wd.
Looking into the eyes of a fully grown lion is quite a confronting experience. Looking into those eyes through a 12ft high x 8ft wide panel, with holes drilled in about the size of a tennis ball, we were able to poke through a pair of tongs with food for them to gobble up… but you can really get eyeball to eyeball in this encounter, it is unbelievable. It is in this moment that you realise how insignificant you are – animals have this incredible depth, calmness and superiority about them – it is amazing to look them in the eye and understand their power. They are so confident in their own ability to assert themselves in this surreal environment. I am not sure one of the lions was too keen on the camera, as when one went off he let out a very deep, slow moan to show his annoyance…suffice to say that person put the camera right down and backed slowly away. Being this close to these animals demands a mutual respect – we won’t annoy them if they won’t annoy us.
Imagine hyenas in your dining room, having a giraffe poke out his tongue to eat some food from your palm high up in the tree houses. The emotion you felt when you walked away was a feeling of being able to intimately connect with the animal. In that moment you realise that they are allowing you to be in their space and it’s up to them to move away or close that opportunity down. They are in complete control of their surroundings and you are both sharing the same home for the evening.
What is also so striking about the encounter, is the mutual ability to view each other – there is no superiority here – to them it looks like we are people eating in a den; that usual dimension between animal and human is no longer so clear. And I find it fascinating. With apes hanging around the communal area looking in at you so curiously, one must wonder who really is in the enclosure?
Thank you to the team at Jamala for making our stay overnight an unforgettable experience. I did not realize how close it is to getting something done off the ‘bucket list’.
What new thing are you going to do today? Can you dust off your bucket list and make a first step towards something, one thing? That new thing may be closer than you think.

Upclose and Personal Jamala Wildlife Lodge from Naomi Simson

This first appeared on LinkedIn in May 2015

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