By Danny Baggott @Dan_Baggie
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Videographer / director: Paul Hugo, Jannes De Villiers
Producer: Danny Baggott, James Thorne
Editor: James Thorne
In the heart of the Limpopo Province, South Africa, 35-year-old Annel Snyman spends her days cuddling and hand-feeding the most dangerous of predators – forming a close bond with lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas.
Annel is the owner of Loebies Guesthouse and Predator Park, which houses 35 animals - 17 of which are wild predators and scavengers that Annel has hand-raised.
Annel told Barcroft TV: “A lot of the feedback I get from my guests is do I trust my lions?
“I know they can turn on me anytime, you don’t know what’s going on in their head.
“My relationship with all the animals differs, they all have their own personality and way of talking to you.
“I’m not scared. But I am cautious.
“Everyone can bite, everyone can attack, everyone is dangerous on their own level.”
Annel opened the park back in 2009 with just a small number of serval cats. Eight years later, she is now the manager of an established guesthouse regularly visited by members of the public, keen to catch sight of the lions and other animals.
Annel admits it has been hard work, but her passion and love for the animals has seen her business go from strength to strength.
She said: “I do have a few scars and stories to tell. The scars were not from aggression.”
“For 220kg cats to jump on top of you – you do get your nose broken. That’s normal.
“They think you are part of the pride, part of the family. They give you cuddles and they jump all over you – that’s normal for them.
“To manage the park, you know it’s hard work. I have to have a dedicated team of staff.”
Neil Van Deventer, 21, acts as Annel’s main park assistant, helping to feed the animals and clean out their enclosures.
Whilst Neil admits his relationship with the animals is not as close as Annel’s, he understands the nature of his job and the possible threat he faces day to day.
Neil said: “I have been helping Annel for around two years now.
“You can’t be scared going in with the animals.
“You need to have respect, otherwise they feel it and if you think you are higher than they are, bigger than they are – they will want to show you who is boss.
“Annel is very very close to all the animals. When Annel interacts with them, they respond immediately no matter what.
“They have a very special bond and relationship with each other. I have never seen anything like it before.”
Each one of Annel’s lions needs to eat 35kg of meat every week, and with eleven of them in total, the cost of food certainly adds up.
Annel said: “We need about 85kg of fresh meat per day to feed all the cats.
“For safety when feeding, there’s always someone outside the enclosure when I’m inside so we always have a back up. Just in case anything goes wrong.”
With Annel’s house situated on site in the middle of the park, she allows the smaller cubs to live inside with her until they reach a certain age.
“My house is actually in the middle of the park, we call it the zoo house,” Annel said.
“Currently, I have my honey badger living in the house with me and the lion cubs too.
“They can get up to great mischief in the house, climbing all over the sofa and sitting next to me watching TV.”
Annel has always had the support of her closest friends and family and she admits this has helped her pull through the most difficult times at the park.
She said: “My family think I’m good at what I do. They do think it’s strange for me to have a house full of cats.
“But they respect me. Most of the animals on the park are dangerous.
“For me to raise a baby from a small to a big animal and for them to still love me is a great feeling.
“I do it because the passion that I have, the passion I have for them and the love they give me.
“It’s very special.”