Two lions in Northeastern Pennsylvania sheltered from clamor over Zimbabwe killings
LAKE ARIEL — Blissfully unaware of the swirling media coverage of the unlawfully slain lions in Zimbabwe, two 11-year-old lions sit in the shade every day at the Claws N Paws Animal Park in Lake Ariel and lead relatively carefree lives in a scenic forest habitat.
George and Henry, the two adult males, have resided at Claws N Paws since they were 2 years old and came to the park from another zoo in the south. They’ll never know about Cecil the lion and his killer Walter Palmer, or a second lion killed by a Murrysville, Pennsylvania doctor. Instead, they’ll live out the remainder of their relatively carefree lives in scenic forest habitat as visitors gaze upon them with new found appreciation.
Vince Hall, who has owned the rural animal park in Wayne County with his wife Bobby for 42 years, said that a normal day for the lions consists of doing primarily nothing, which is “a little bit different” than what they would do in the wild where they would sleep between 21 and 22 hours per day and either hunt, eat or try to mate during the remaining two hours.
George and Henry get fed around 6 p.m. when the park is closing, and the evening dinner hour, with its cooler temperatures, caters to a lion’s natural feeding clock. “The only difference is they feed seven days a week here,” said Hall, who went on to explain that lions can often go over a week without a kill in the Savannas of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Hall has a noticeable affinity for his cats; 10 species reside in the park. The lions, who lounge regally throughout the day, will move intently toward him when he calls to them, clapping his hands and saying “common boys.” He notes that while he would not get too close, they are comfortable with his voice and presence.
They walked eagerly toward their keeper on Aug. 4, and sat near the perimeter of their habitat, looking almost proud to show themselves to the crowd of onlookers who beheld them.
John and Gina Hammel of Emmaus have a cabin near Claws N Paws, and John Hammel said they make it a point to tour the park at least once a year.
“Nothing compares to it,” he said. ” You can go to Philly, you can go to New York, San Diego — nothing compares to this. You’re four feet from a mature lion, and they’re usually active. You’re in the shade. It’s a beautiful surrounding. It’s a wonderful place.”
Hammel is an avid outdoorsman and an aficionado of all things wildlife. The frequent hunter presented a thoughtful perspective on the Zimbabwe killings.
He called the relationship between hunters and wildlife in Africa a “tumultuous” one, explaining that many animals are protected by people who value them as a resource in a hunting culture and industry. He said that many more animals could fall prey to poachers without such a network of protectors and hunters.
Hammel is an advocate of free-range hunting, where an animal is hunted in its natural habitat and has an opportunity to survive. He also eats all that he kills, and he said that he and his wife enjoyed venison and bear meat from last hunting season.
Hammel made a point to not to condemn the hunters in question in the Zimbabwe incidents without a wealth of information, but he said, “In regards to the lion that was taken, I wasn’t a fan of how it was taken by any stretch.”
While they reside in Lake Ariel, George and Henry can look forward to a long life in the park. Hall said that at age 11, the two males would already be approaching the low end of their lifespan in the wild.
“In captivity, a lion lives something over 20 years,” Hall said. “I’m not sure what the average life in the wild is, but there’s a high infant mortality (rate).”
According to the Pittsburgh Zoo’s website, the average lifespan of an African lion in the wild is 15 to 18 years while the average lifespan of the same cat in captivity is 25 to 30 years. According to nationalgeographic.com, 80 percent of lions in the wild never make it to their third year of life.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or [email protected]