Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Hot on the trail of the King/Queen of Beasts

We were driving to a waterhole for our sundowners (how we will miss those!) when our noses were assaulted by the unmistakeable aroma of decomposing elephant. It was indescribable. Our guide stopped the vehicle and consulted with his colleague following behind - they knew of the elephant carcass and suspected that lions might have commandeered it. A quick check of the road revealed distinct (to them) tracks of several lions heading into the bush in the direction of the stench.

A hurried decision was made to escort the most intrepid of us into the bush to see the carcass and reccy for lions.
We were given strict instruction NOT to run, squeal or make any unnecessary noise and to walk in single file so we looked like one entity. The lead guide, Peter, (channelling Steve Irwin) carried a loaded double-barrelled elephant rifle and Nicholas brought up the rear with his own weapon at the ready.
The leaf litter was dried to a crisp so walking quietly was tricky. We crept towards the overpowering stink of decomposing elephant. After 25 metres we could clearly hear the low and very menacing growl of one, or more lions, clearly now aware of our presence.

Here we are setting off in single file but still making enough noise to wake the dead.
Peter sights the first lion, about 30 metres ahead, and cautions us to hold still. Three lions, probably juveniles, run off to the left and disappear into the scrub (not hard to do seeing that we could barely see anything in this thick, scrubby vegetation).
It was clear to me that I was NOT going to get the definitive lion shot on this occasion - if we were going to live at all (I think we were all just a bit nervous) so I decided to pop off a few snaps to document what we were doing. Peter has his firearm at the ready in case the remaining lion decided to do a 'mock' charge. How do you tell it's a mock charge, I ask. It's the one where no one gets mauled. OK, at this point, I'm looking around for a climbable tree...
The stink of the dead elephant is quite appalling - a rotting carcass is bad enough but when it's the size of an adult elephant, the pong is serious. It was thought that this might have just died of natural causes - usually either old age or more likely, of anthrax.
That's about as far as we got. I saw the three lions rush off, stage left - frightened by our presence but the one lioness (or was it two) remaining let out quite a fierce roar. Low and very menacing. Clearly the stinky elephant was hers and she was not going to give it up. Peter made the wise decision to get us all to back off and we slowly edged backwards towards the road and out of immediate danger. Interestingly these guides instilled in us a strong feeling of confidence/safety in what, on the surface, could have been a totally foolhardy exercise. Their collective firepower helped a bit, but at the end of the day, you do rely entirely on the experience of your guides to keep you 100% safe.
One thing I DO KNOW about Africa. Never run! If you run, you are lunch...

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