A distant lion roar broke the rhythmic monotonous sound of a hippo munching grass near the campsite. I struggled up out of my sleeping bag to get my ear to the tent window, hoping they would roar again so I could estimate a direction and distance, we had been on Safari now for several days and had not yet managed to spot them.
Silence ….. just as I was giving up hope and preparing to settle down again they roared again, “closer this time” I thought, but it may be because I have my ear to the window, and the roar was answered, definitely closer, two groups it seems, calling to each other, maybe the males had separated from the rest of the group and were trying to regroup. Good for me anyway as it meant they were moving and I could pick up a spoor. I turned on my headlamp and looked at the time, already half past five, I had told the group six o’clock wake up but this was special.
Checking carefully as I opened my tent door that the hippo was not too close I went out and got a fire going and the kettle on and by a quarter to six my assistant and I had breakfast ready, cereals and toast, enough to keep us going till brunch at eleven. I made the round tapping the tents for the guests to wake up and got the usual mmhuummmaaawnn from each tent, an international term for “good morning”. As each of the group appeared around the fire they huddled close to the warmth and I explained that I had heard the Lions and I thought they were across the channel on Bodumatau island, they shouldn’t linger with breakfast as I wished to get out of camp as soon as there was enough light to see spoor on the ground, everybody donned their layers against the winter chill and we headed off.
Within a kilometre of the camp we found the first spoor, already several hours old but heading the direction I thought to have heard them. The lions not in a hurry though, stopping every two hundred meters or so to lay down and play, the scuff marks clear in the powdery white dust of the Moremi track. Then, I lost them again as we approached a water crossing, they obviously knew of a better place to cross the water, within a few hundred meters I had the spoor again and it was definitely much fresher this time. The vehicle leaned as everybody bunched up to one side craning their necks to get a view of the spoor, almost the size of a side plate.
The excitement was tangible. Everybody checking camera settings and making sure their spare film was handy. We crossed water again and the spoor on the other side was so fresh, it was still lined by little droplets of water from the lions’ paws, glimmering in the morning sunshine. We were obviously very close so I stopped and gave the group a quick briefing.
No sudden movements, no standing up in the vehicle, keep your voices down, make sure you take a good look at the animal and enjoy before gluing your eye to the camera…
We rounded the next corner and there they were, some females on the right, about 20 meters away and a magnificent young male lying right in the middle of the road, the morning sun making his mane glow and his whiskers shine.
An awed silence preceded the frantic shooting of cameras, while the guests were enjoying the obvious, I was searching carefully for more.
How many were there? Any youngsters? Was he the only male? He didn’t seem to be old and scarred enough to be a dominant male… suddenly there was movement in the sage bush ahead and a female got up and moved to a clump of grass where a huge male who had been lying down suddenly put his head up and nuzzled with her.
They were a mating pair, this is why the others were staying away and the young male seemed so wary. By now the machine gun camera fire had slowed down and in a low voice I started explaining the behaviour of the animals and pointing out interesting details to look out for.
We spent over an hour with them and when we moved on the excited babble from behind was satisfying, now I could settle down and look for signs of other interesting animals.