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In the Lions’ den

Remember the story of Daniel in the lion’s den? Daniel is not the only guy who can walk into the lions’ den and not get eaten for supper. There are two guys in Johannesburg who can do the very same thing.

Their names are Johannes Madopa and Chris Hannock and they both work at the Johannesburg Zoo. Learn and Teach went to talk to them. We walked and walked to get to the lions’ cage. And then we waited for them to come out from behind the lions’ cage.

Soon Chris came out, dressed in khaki. We told him that we were from Learn and Teach and we wanted our readers to know what being a lion feeder at the zoo is like.


“Wait here,” said Chris. “I’ll call Johannes. He works with the lions all the time. I am in charge of the elephants and the rhinoceros as well as the lions.”

When Johannes came out, he was pushing a wheelbarrow. He shook his head and laughed when we told him what we wanted. But he agreed to talk to us and we all went to sit in the shade under a tree.


“I come from Soekmekaar, near Louis Trichardt,” Johannes told us. “There is no work around Louis Trichardt, so when I was a little bit old, I went to work on the mines at Thabazimbi. That was terrible work. When my contract finished, I did not want to go back to that place.

“But my parents need money so I went and got a contract for Johannesburg. They did not tell me what kind of a job my contract was for. I was very frightened when I came to the zoo and they told me that I must work with the lions.

”And when I wrote and told my family about my work, they did not believe me. My wife, my brothers, my sisters all laugh when I tell them that I work with lions here in Johannesburg. I sent them a photograph. But still they don’t believe me.”


“I had only seen a lion once before in my life — when I was young. Some lions came to our cattle kraal and tried to steal some cows. We were very scared. We made a big fire near the kraal to chase the lions away.

“But now I am used to lions. I come in the mornings and clean out their cages. Then in the afternoons we feed them. We do not feed them here where you can see them. We take them to the back of the cage.”


“When I first started working here, the lions would never go to the back. I didn’t know what to do. Then I remembered how the cats at home hated water. So I took a hose and sprayed the lion. He was very cross but he ran into the back. Since then, he listens to eveything I say.”

“It is very expensive feeding the lions,” said Chris. “Each lion eats six kilograms of meat a day. We feed them rabbits, or donkey meat. On Thursday, to save some money, we don’t feed them at all. On Fridays they are very hungry. They roar all day for food. We never have trouble getting them into the back on Fridays.”


“You have to be very careful here,” said Johannes. “If you make a mistake, you can lose your arm, or even your life. I have never had an accident here. But Chris has.”

Chris started laughing so we knew his accident was not serious. “It happened early one morning, in the middle of winter,” said Chris. “I was cleaning the front of the lions’ cage. I was busy sweeping and I was not watching where I was going.

“The next minute I was falling. I fell into the water around the cage. The water was ice cold. I looked around and I was pleased to see that there was no-one to laugh at me – only the lions. I got a very bad cold from my ‘swim”.


“But Dollie, the elephant nearly ended my life here at the zoo,” Chris said. “One night someone left a hose out and the elephants got it. When I came to work in the morning, all the elephants were swinging bits of hose around, above their heads.

“We thought that we had got the hose away from all the elephants. I went up to Dollie who was drinking some water. Dollie put her trunk down and the next minute I heard something just above my head.

“I ducked down, otherwise I would be a dead man today. Dollie was hiding a piece of hose. Ithink she was cross because I took the hose away from all the elephants.”


We asked Chris and Johannes for tips about working in the zoo — just in case any of our readers want to work there.

Chris said,”The animals in the zoo are just like pets at home. You get to know and love them and they get to know you. One thing I can say is, if you work with elephants, never leave hosepipe lying around.”

Johannes said, “If you work with lions, you can go into the cage with one lion — but never with two lions. If there are two, they will eat you. Also, you must never look a lion in the eye. If you do, they will attack you. You have to watch out.”

Learn and Teach thanked Johannes and Chris for talking to us. Then we went back to our office. Our heads were full of stories about lions and tigers, elephants and hosepipes. But we enjoyed our trip to the zoo — and we hope that you have enjoyed this story .

Heyta daar — see you next time at the zoo.


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