Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Best of Year One: #3

Seeing Lions

I will never forget what it was like to see a lion. I was on safari driving slowly along when one of the other volunteers with me told the guide she thought she had seen something in a clump of bushes that we had just driven by. Our guide reversed the truck and sure enough, there were two female lions in the bushes that had just killed a waterbuck.

We parked the truck within about 15 feet of the lion and the guide whispered for us not to make any sudden movements or to talk too loudly. The lion seemed to be staring right at us and, while I never felt unsafe, it was unsettling. He lions had stuffed themselves and were laying under the brush and breathing heavily. A lion only eats about every four days and so when they do get a kills they will gorge themselves. Their stomachs can expand so much that it actually squeezes their lungs and they can’t take a full breath.

We drove along and planned to check on them later in the afternoon. Several hours later we returned and found them eating the waterbuck. It was quite disgusting and fascinating at the same time. We sat and watched them slowly tear the carcass apart. The lions had their fill again and went to go lie down.

No sooner had someone made a joke about them being too fat to move than they quickly stood up and came walking right by our truck. A hyena had come into view and was 300-400 yards away. I had no idea how the lions ever saw the hyena, we could barely spot him but they quickly gave chase. One of the lions walked by so closely that I felt like I could have reached out and touched it.

We headed back to camp for the night and planned to track them in the morning. At night sitting around the camp fire we could hear the lions calling to each other. It was not a loud roar but rather this low grunting noise that can carry for several kilometers.

The next morning we found two male lions on the kill and they were eating what was left of the waterbuck, which was not a whole lot. Seeing the lions completely devour a waterbuck was an unbelievable experience. We got to sit within feet of them while they ate, napped, and walked around. It is an experience I hope I get to repeat but will never forget.