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Unforgettable Up Close Animal Experiences in Victoria Falls

Getting up-close and personal with Africa's wild greats makes for very special memories of your visit to Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is founded on the beauty of nature. The town is named after the incredible waterfall; the activities revolve around the raging rapids, looming gorge, teeming national parks and the mesmerizing river. The game is as prolific as the people, and the Big Five are the town's celebrities. Game drives are a wonderful way to view the wildlife, but there are a few activities that will bring you even closer than you could have imagined to some of natures most revered creatures.

Crocodile cage diving

Out of the town limits at the Crocodile Sancuary, the Croc Cage diving operation houses three enormous Nile crocodiles- Bongo, Prado and Lucky. Crocodiles are the dinosaurs of today, with their scaly tails, gaping jaws and piercing eyes. It is one thing to watch them bask in the sun, or see their scales ripple the surface of a river, but it is an entirely unique experience to witness them slice through the water that you too are submerged within.

Croc cage diving Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Croc cage diving (photo: Crocodile Cage Diving - Victoria Falls)

Divers will spend 25-30 minutes in a glass cage, and unlike shark cage diving, you will breathe through a scuba regulator (no prior experience required), eliminating the need to surface for air and tear your gaze away from these powerful reptilians. To fully witness the strength of the crocodiles, divers can use a stick with a chunk of meat attached to feed the crocodiles, all the while enjoying a 360 view of their short legs, snapping teeth and thick tails. At the end of the activity, divers can collect photographs and a video clip of their encounter so they have hard copies (and proof) of the memories made on this thrilling escapade.

Elephant Encounters

I have always found the African elephant to be absolutely enchanting. It is almost impossible to capture the wisdom in their eyes, the folded wrinkles of their skin, and the wiry hairs that run along their trunks through the lens of a camera. But the humbling aura of these gentle giants is not something that is easy to forget, which is what makes this activity so memorable and special. The elephants live in a sanctuary that spans over acres of pristine wilderness, and are in no way exploited or unhappy. Most came into the care of the sanctuary after they were orphaned in the wild or injured by poachers. Guests are invited to immerse themselves in the herd and spend time with the elephant in the most positive and natural way possible.

The elephant encounter begins with a presentation on the orphanage and how it came to be. Guests will have an opportunity to have a conversation with the very people that care for the elephants each and every day. After the presentation, they venture into the bush alongside the elephant, leaving angular footprints next to their round ones in the soft sand. The walk itself is captivating, winding under looming trees, over rocky terrain and past small brooks. Inquisitive animals like impala and warthogs usually emerge from the bush to watch the unlikely party pass by.

Elephant encounter in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Elephant Encounter

This walk in the wild is such a fascinating and inspiring event that it doesn't seem like anything could surpass it. But the crème de la crème of the day for me has always come at the end of the walk. The elephants line up and with outstretched trunks, eagerly snuff up the pellets guests can offer to their majestic companions. There is something about feeling the warm gush of air and damp tip of the elephant trunk grazing your palm that instills an unparalleled sense of calm and wonder in you. Once they have eaten their full, the warthogs descend on the dropped pellets, roaming across the ground on their knees, tails pointed skywards. The elephants then lope towards a glistening pool of sticky mud to cool off after their walk. Watching these domineering animals disrobe that air of careless grace and fling themselves into the squelching mud is a delightful spectacle. They roll onto their backs, slide down the banks on their bums, and fling mud onto each other in a helpful but cheeky gesture. It's a moment where these all knowing, enormous creatures unleash their inner child and emerge in a coat of dark, gooey mud. From start to finish, the elephant encounter gives guests unique perspectives of these magnificent mammals, imprinting them on the hearts and minds of all who meet the herd.

Walk with the lion (Update: This activity is no longer available - please see information on the Lion Encounter instead)

Whether you have grown up in Africa or not, everyone knows that the lion is the king of the jungle. And walking alongside the king of the jungle is nothing short of a privilege.

Lion Encounters take place opposite the Zambezi National Park, in an area that retains the raw and magnetic feel of the natural wilderness. Armed with a walking stick and a camera, guests cover this exquisite terrain with the dust coloured animals moving around freely between them. The trained guides use their discretion and acute knowledge of the lion to decide when and where to stop for photographs and physical interaction with these amazing animals. The rowdy adolescents playing with each other and exploring the bush are an amusing and fascinating sight, and the experience is very educational too, as the guides share their wisdom about the lion's behaviour, habitat, and conservation challenges they face in the wild.

No leashes, no collars, just you, your guide, and the king of the jungle.

Vulture Restaurant

Vultures are not the most attractive of Mother Nature's creations, and while they may not be aesthetically alluring, they are vital members of our complex ecosystem. Vulture burgers are not on the menu (fortunately) but if you happen to be a vulture, then this is a Michelin star venue.

Miles of untouched wilderness spill out in front of the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, and this is where hundreds of vultures venture to every day for a much-anticipated snack. Feathered patrons include hooded vultures, white-backed vultures, marabou stalks, yellow billed kites and tawny eagles. Bird enthusiast or not, the sight of these birds descending claws first towards the scraps of meat thrown into the air will mystify and amaze you.

Vulture Culture Experience

When I first visited this "restaurant" I did not have the highest of expectations, but now it is one of the first places I take visiting friends and family. Before the feeding, the birds start soaring in. Some stay airborne, drawing patterns into the blue sky with their wings. Others land onto the tree branches, which eventually bend under the sheer weight of hundreds of birds, and begin to look as though they are sprouting feathers instead of leaves. At 1pm, a brave guide drops the scraps of meat and quickly scarpers out of the way as the birds descend in a dark cloud onto the ground. They pour in, flying on top of each other, until there are too many to count. The bigger birds squabble over the scraps, sinister looking stalks joining the fray of frenzied vultures. Occasionally, a hungry jackal will dart into the chaos, emerging with a shell-shocked expression and a small snack. The birds strip the bones of their meat at an alarming rate, leaving a trail of off-white carcasses in their wake. Some of the birds are the size of small dogs, others are just youngsters trying to throw their weight around, but all of them together are purely captivating to see. There is nowhere else I can think of where people can get so close to these scavengers in action, and in such a massive volume.

When the cloud of dust eventually settles, the last of the scraps has been gobbled up, and a stray feather is all that remains, the guide steps forward once again to address the wide-eyed crowd.

Before visiting the restaurant I had never given vultures a second thought. But when I left I had learned two important things- Vultures are an essential part of the ecosystem because they eat up the remains of carcasses before they can rot and spread disease. They also have a bad rap for being scavengers, but they aren't violent creatures; they just eat what's leftover and keep the bush clean. There isn't enough food for all the vultures in Victoria Falls and so the Safari Lodge donates all their leftovers to the peckish birds as part of the "Green Steps" program.

The feeding is a truly remarkable sight, and well worth a visit. The Safari Lodge is also a beautiful spot to have lunch or a drink while watching other wildlife visiting the adjacent watering hole.

Steve Irwin once said, "If you can't excite people about wildlife, how can you convince them to love, cherish, and protect our wildlife and the environment they live in". So come to Victoria Falls, and get excited.

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