the lion pride *south africa*
Being smack bang in the middle of a pride of lions was unexpected and perhaps indescribable, but I will do my best to share it with you…
On one evening drive word was received on the radio that a pride was found. Our guide, with a cheeky grin, suggested we hang on and move to the middle of our seats so he could speed up. Moving through the darkness faster was exhilarating, the cold air rushing past, bugs lodging in my mouth, the scraping and slapping of trees against the Landrover and all of us hanging on tight over sharp bumps in the dirt tracks.
As we arrived, a collective gasp was let out. There in our headlights lay a regal lion, four lionesses and two cubs. They were relaxed and lazy in their movements as they stretched, got up and padded their large paws along the dirt trail. As the lionesses disappeared from our light beam the two cubs got up to follow. The cuteness overload began as four more cubs emerged from their hiding spots in the long grass. A procession of six (!) cute cub bums waddled up the track and we slowly followed, our guides always respectful and alert. I was glad when the other half of our group pulled up beside us, knowing we would now all witness this incredible experience. Our tracker’s spotlight followed the male disappearing into the bush on our left. It crossed my mind that he might circle behind us – the tactic used to hunt is one lion holds eye contact while the other circles behind to attack! But I was not too anxious for I had trust in our guides and was quite literally high on the emotion of the encounter.
After a lengthy and privileged stint taking in all that we could, it was time to head back to camp. It is not safe to be out after a certain time when the horrible poachers creep into the land illegally. The quickest track home was in front of us past the lionesses and cubs. As the driver turned around he calmly told us to look behind us. Our group of 13 collectively let out stifled sounds of shock. It was quite an achievement to be subdued and controlled in our noise and movements, when there, standing in the glow of our rear lights was the male. Right behind us. Just there. He was not posing aggressively, but it was as if he was patiently waiting his chance to go past and return to the pride. He calmly overtook the other truck so insanely close, the movement of the air around him surely felt by my father-in-law as my mother-in-law whispered "he’s right beside you!".
Our driver veered into the bushes for a bit of hard grinding over tree stumps, long grass and hidden holes in order to overtake the pride and emerge in front of them on the road. Unbeknown to us, they continued to move through the darkness and we came back onto the track to find our headlights reflecting off their glorious eyes again. We were literally surrounded by a pride of lions, oh what a moment!! The kind where apprehension and excitement collide in the most heart-filling surge of energy and yet you must be calm in your movements. My beautiful sister-in-law told me to look down to my left. Within arm’s reach, without a single blade of grass or barrier between us, stood a lioness looking at us. I think I stopped breathing, trying to take in the intimacy of this moment with her, electric as I tried to capture it in my whole body. This wild, skilled predator and mother of cubs was so close.
As we all gathered again at camp the chatter was animated and loud. Everyone was enthusiastically sharing their perspective of the events, playing the moments over and over again, utter enchantment written on all our faces. I sat there quietly hoping I could digest it enough, cement it in my mind from pieces in the darkness, the adrenaline rush and my husband’s photos. That close meeting with these beautiful creatures. The honour of their trust in us. The face-to-face encounter with a wild, real, pragmatic, harsh and sometimes magical life.
*Photos by my husband. I was right beside him with my mouth gaping!