I’m positive he whispered lion

26th June 2014

Fever trees Makuleke

Friday 20th June 2014

Walking the floodplain directly from camp has been quite productive of late, certainly when it comes to encounters. However, this morning they weren’t coming so I was beginning to resign myself to it simply being a lovely walk through the Fever Tree Forest.

As we left the forest Alan directed the student “lead”, to the small basalt ridge so he would have height to check out the floodplain to the south and the riverine thicket to the north. As the student went over the crest it looked like he was doing some kind of hand puppet show. He was trying to work out what hand signal to use, first went up stop, then freeze then stop again. In the end he simply hissed through his teeth, “lion!”

I must have misheard him because I’m positive he whispered lion. Rather than freezing I rushed up from the back of the line with my rifle. I wasn’t after a Kevin Costner “Bodyguard” moment, I simply wanted to see this for myself.

I’ve mistaken a bush pig for a lion before and I was on a walk when Ben mistook an Eland for one. I wasn’t too hopeful this time either. We just don’t see lion round here, it’s not the done thing. But there they were, two lionesses lying on top of a termite mound in the golden warmth of the morning sun. They were 120 metres away, we were down wind with cover, they had no idea of our presence.

Alan told us to all sit down as quickly as possible. Unfortunately Nico wasn’t quick enough and was left standing. We watched for ten minutes enjoying the sighting. They weren’t sleeping, they were simply resting so both had their heads up catching rays. The lioness on top of the flat termite mound was a youngster, about a year old, her age given away by the remnants of her youthful spots in her tawny coat.

Nico who hadn’t been able to get a seat was starting to get restless so Alan directed him to a rock. Unfortunately the yearling caught his movement. Her head went down with her ears forward as she tried to work us out. She’d seen enough and was off with a puff of dust as her claws got traction on the termite excavated soil. The mother then spent 15 seconds or so checking us out, then she was off. As they headed east we heard first Natal spurfowl and then zebra marking the lion’s passage with their alarm calls.

Alan put the sighting down to the fact that, “We had it coming, nature is funny in that way, you get out what you put in, it’s like paying an honesty bill”. With the tracks that we’ve seen over the last couple of days as well as this visual we know of seven individuals on the concession. I can’t wait to see them again.