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~ I dont blog about things to be liked. I blog about things that I like ~ ... so that one day, on my death bed, I will have said and done what I wanted to do, and die peacefully without regrets.
Live your life in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan shudders & says..' Oh shit....She's awake'

Monday, March 23, 2009

An Encounter with an African Lion

A story of a volunteer student and their remarkable encounter with the King of the Jungle:

How my day started:
We awoke at 7:30am to the calling voice of Brass our guide. Unusually for the South African way of life her call sounded quite urgent ...

The 'shocking' news that followed:
We were gathered in the kitchen and given the announcement that we were about to embark on a 24 hour survival which included a Treasure Hunt! We were to leave with only the clothes we were wearing, no food or water was allowed (Brass had padlocked the fridge and food cupboards!) only cameras to record our findings. Our sleeping bags would be collected later that day. The group of 25 people were divided into two and sent out on a Treasure Hunt, with a list of objects, animals and tracks to find.

Gathering a respectable collection of Shit:
My team set out to the right of the Campfire entrance. There hadn't been many sightings of animals in the last two days and the Bush seemed relatively quite. We concentrated on the list, gathering a respectable collection of shit from the native animals, large and small. We recorded many of the tracks, birds and insects that we came across, and now seemed to be getting close to the end of our Treasure Hunt. One of the last instructions was to walk in front of the Hawk Eagle's nest. We were lucky to witness one of the birds actually sat in its nest high above us.

The first set of lion tracks...
We approached the dust road and to my excitement I noticed several lion tracks that appeared to be fresh. We had seen some on a previous game drive but I had never come across them myself. We circled a good example and took a photograph. As we moved on I came to the front of the group. We were close to the end and were wary that the other team may have finished first.

Our first encounter...
As the end came in sight we suddenly heard a loud noise. It sounded as though a car was moving quite closely through the Bush. There are many cars that move through this area so we were not alarmed. The sound continued - like the revving of an engine. A member of my team even joked that it could be someone here to rescue us from our 24 hour survival! Suddenly, within a second, we knew that it was not a car but the almighty roar of the African King. To our right he sprung out of a bush which had camouflaged him perfectly. Being at the front of the group I was one of the first to witness his enormous jaw of teeth and impressive black mane. His name, as known to the Balule Nature Reserve, Big Boy


His call hit us like a brick wall, and the shock was as if a bolt of lightning had hit me. He must have been only 20 metres away, and believe me that is too close for comfort when on foot! There is nothing like a lion's warning roar. It passes through you with such conviction that you understand perfectly what he wants you to do. In that split second I learnt of the difference between man and Lion. Even though I have spent some time at Campfire I did not fully understand the power of a lion's presence. We were truly in his kingdom; and he did not want us there.

What to do when you 'run' into a Lion:
When a lion jumps out at you every ounce of your body wants to run. It is our natural instinct of survival that tells us to run from danger. However as you will well know this is the one thing you do not do in this situation. I simply remember spinning on one foot simultaneously towards my friend Kat to see the rest of the group only just realising there was a lion. I heard Brass to the right of me shout the instructions: “STOP! DON'T RUN! GET BEHIND ME, NOW!”. It is in these moments that you truly appreciate the work and training of an experienced nature guide like Brass.

How we survived this attack:
We followed Brass' instructions, grouped together to create an object bigger than the lion, and slowly backed away. I was too nervous to walk away with the lion to my back, therefore I walked backwards, treading on many thorny bushes on the way. My heart has never pounded so fast and the adrenaline had seriously kicked in by now. My legs were bleeding from the thorns and I think my face may have lost its tan!

Back on 'safe' grounds:
Brass had now contacted Laetitia and her group joined ours. Laetitia announced that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we were now to approach the lion as a bigger group. At this point my survival instinct was working strong and the last thing my body wanted to do was walk back. However I understood that the lion would not approach us in a large group and he would warn us if he wasn't happy. I think we might have only walked 15 steps when he practised his vocal cords once more. It wasn't as close this time but BOY did it have the same effect! After many minutes of looking through the bush Laetitia had a visual but she was unsure how many lions there were, so we were instructed to walk to a safe spot where we would be picked up.

The reason he was so aggressive:
From the safety of our vehicle we approached the lion once more. By now we had noticed many vultures circling the sky. A KILL! Now my shock had changed to excitement as I knew how rare it was to walk into a lion and its kill! As we drove down into the dry river bed the carcass came in sight. It was a young, female buffalo. We had seen buffalo for several weeks leading to the kill. It was then, there to my right, that his majesty casually walked to the right of our vehicle. Being on the right side of an open top “Bakkie” (pick-up) I wasn't feeling too comfortable, in fact I might have tried to slide under the seats at this point! I could now see how huge he truly was.

The rest of HIS family:
Driving between the carcass and the lion his partner came on show. He had a young lioness with him, her coat was almost perfect. She was beautiful! They were alone and had probably ventured out for a little mating time. Maybe they thought a buffalo would be a romantic meal - yummy! The buffalo's body had been devoured, only it's head, limbs and exposed ribs remained.

Inspecting the carcass of the buffalo:
After about ten minutes, the lions moved off into the Bush and Laetitia felt it was safe to investigate the carcass. In groups of four we each inspected the carcass to see how the animals and vultures had eaten this animal. As a part of your learning experience at Campfire you learn of the Clean-Up Company, therefore it was important that we observed this first hand. Rigor mortis had not yet set in, meaning it had been killed in the early hours of that morning. The blow flies had began to crawl over the remaining meat and soon its body would be consumed by the scavengers of the Bush.

As the last group were about to look at the carcass we heard Big Boy once more from the rear of the second car. He was now ready for us to leave, and we were more than willing to please him!

Bed Time in the wild:
That night we slept 100m from the carcass in the dry river bed. Even though I had been scared, the opportunity to hear lions at night while sleeping under the African sky was not one to be missed. As we sat baking stick bread on one of four fires surrounding our camp we suddenly heard the roar of the lion once more. With the wind being so fierce that night the sound coming from the direction of the kill seemed as though it was right next to us. The five huddled around the nearest fire, including myself and Laetitia, jumped and ran to the furthest fire. We later leaned this was probably another male fighting over the carcass, and had nothing to do with our presence ... phew!

That night as I lay there trying to sleep we heard the lions many times. Their calls are unlike anything you will ever hear, and we knew that they weren't far away. On many occasions we could hear twigs being snapped around our camp, and the thought of having a wee in the dark was now quite scary. I never thought I'd be scared to go to the toilet, or should I say Bush toilet!

How safe were we that night?
As my group awoke at around 5am to leave for another project the car lights illuminated the floor. There on the sand, just a few meters away from our camp were dozens of fresh lion tracks. I guess it doesn't get much closer than that!

A story of a life-time:
I now feel extremely privileged to have walked into Lions, and feel this story will be told for decades to come. It isn't until you experience an African animal in its natural environment that you sincerely appreciate its existence. Seeing them in the wild is the only way to see them and I hope this remains the truth for a long time to come.

I would like to thank Brass, Laetitia, Adele, B and the rest of the Campfire staff for making these experiences so special and unique.

Laura Preston - Written by Laura Stacy Preston and experienced by the Campfire Crew August-September 2008

Source: Campfire Safaris

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