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Unlike many of the other items on my bucket list, when I wrote “Pet a Lion” I had zero vision of how I could actually make it happen. I honestly thought it would be one of the near impossible items. After all, how could I pet a lion? Who does that? Little did I know, social media would not fail me! While aimlessly scrolling through Instagram one day, I came across a photo of a girl I ‘know’ online – Alex (@clippo) – who was *gasp* holding a lion in her arms! I messaged her to ask how she made that happen, which is when I first learned of the Bowmanville Zoo. A quick look at the zoo’s website (http://bowmanvillezoo.com) and I was hooked. The zoo had recently welcomed some lion cubs into their family and as part of their socialization, zoo visitors were welcome to come hold and pet the lions while they were still young. This was my opportunity and there was no way I was going to miss it, especially with a price tag that consisted of a $22.50 entry fee and a $10 photo fee.  But to take it one step further, the zoo also offered up close and personal tiger encounters. While the price was not cheap - $300 for a half hour encounter for four people – my 30th birthday was coming up and I knew instantly that this is how I was going to splurge on myself. Between the lion cub and tiger encounters, this will without a doubt go down in the book s as the best $332.50 I ever spent!

Lion Cub Encounter

Lion Cubs

With the Bowmanville Lion Cubs

On July 27th, 2014, I ventured north to Bowmanville for the first time. With my friend Sarah and my two little nieces in tow, we made a full day of it. We took the opportunity to see the entire zoo which I was quite impressed with. It had both a close up view of the animals which larger zoos like the Toronto Zoo don’t always offer, but with enough space for the animals to roam that it doesn't make you uncomfortable wondering if the animals are being tightly confined within a space smaller than they need. Everything about the zoo was lovely; my nieces loved how much they were able to interact with the goats and alpacas, the train ride around the zoo made them laugh no end, and they got to see Santa’s reindeer! That said, I had a small aunt fail in that I did not prepare for a water park; let alone for the lion cub encounter to be situated directly in front of the water park entrance. Suffice to say, 4 and 6 years olds don’t necessary appreciate how I didn’t know they’d need their bathing suits. It was potential meltdown territory, but thankfully we were able to make it through.  The lion cub encounter took a bit longer than anticipated, as the first lion they brought out was being restless and not very people friendly. That said, it amazes me the degree to which some people in line were not understanding of this fact, as IT IS A LION. If a lion is being restless and I need to wait a little bit for the non-restless one, then that is what I will do. I will trust the trainers and the experts to do what is safe for the zoo visitors without question. About an hour later, the generally more people friendly lion arrived and we were up! The lion was adorable. He had just returned from a children’s birthday party and as a result was tired, which to be perfectly honest, was somewhat comforting. I sat down on a rock and had the lion placed in my arms and it was such a sweetheart. I held him, rocked him, pet him and even kissed him on his head. This was definitely a life moment. After all four of us had our turn, we were on our merry way, smiling with appreciation of the experience we’d just had.  

Tiger Encounter

With Robbie the TigerA few short weeks after my lion cub encounter, I was back in the car on my way to Bowmanville again for the next encounter – a full grown tiger! Joining me this time was my giddy-with-excitement mother and two of my close friends; Sarah again and Preeya for the first time. None of us had any idea of what this experience would entail, so our hopes were high and  expectations low. Upon arriving, after a bit of administrative confusion, we were shortly escorted into the show auditorium for our encounter. What we experienced here was beyond anything I could have expected. Robbie turned out to be a full grown seventeen year old tiger that’s lived quite the life. With the four of us lined up, his trainer, Josh, walked Robbie back and forth in front of us allowing us to pet him both on his head and body. This alone made the entire price worthwhile. As he did this, Robert, a lovely Scottish man with intimate knowledge of tigers educated us on the perils currently faced by the tiger population and counter measures being taken to try to prevent the species extinction. In addition to this, he also spoke to the animal rights activists position, what their basis is for protesting zoos and why they are against forced procreation of endangered species. Given his employment by the zoo, he presented the two sides quite fairly. Don’t get me wrong, his level of disagreement with their position was still apparent, but he did present their position without discrediting them, a quality not often seen in any of the animal activists I’ve encountered. So back to the tiger! After a few tiger walk-by’s, I decided I was going to brave a selfie attempt. I thought  ‘I’m going to crouch down and as Robbie walks by I’ll snap a few pics real fast and hope one of them turns out’. Well. Let me tell you. As Robbie approached me, he probably wondered what the heck I was doing and stopped right behind me, proceeding to take a big sniff of my hair. As this was happening, I was snapping away, not scared, but my heart rate definitely increasing. After taking a big sniff, he then nudged my head with his head then went on his way. This, folks, is what you call a genuine life moment. A tiger lovingly nudged my head. Definitely a moment I will carry with me forever. With Robbie the TigerIf ever I needed convincing that the tiger truly is a majestic creature, I have now seen the light. Witnessing a tiger’s evident strength while seeing its gentle side as a living creature is something that can never be unseen. Be sure to follow these twitter accounts, as they’re always posting about amazing not-to-be missed opportunities such as this! @steph__paige @Bowmanville_Zoo @clippo @SAS_1986S @preeyam29