Daniel, Day and Lewis, the lion brothers
About three years ago, more or less, I drove into Shumba picnic site on Hwange National Park late one afternoon to meet with the company that would yield test our newly drilled boreholes for the camp I was working to set up. The plan was to spend the night and do the testing in the morning on the camp concession, just across the road from Shumba. At this stage all that was on site were the two boreholes. I gave the company guys a tent to put up, which they did under one of the thatched buildings in the camp site! It was a clear night and I knew it was nearly full moon, so I just backed the Landrover up to about four metres from the fire pit, threw my mattress and sleeping bag in the back and started to make a fire and get organised to cook. It was an early night, as I knew we had a lot of work the next day.
At about two in the morning I went from a deep sleep to adrenalin pumping wide awake! There was a lion roaring and roaring - very close by. I lay dead still and just listened until it was quiet to see if I could pinpoint where the lion was by the noise of his movement. When a lion roars that close to you, the sound comes from EVERYWHERE! It was silent for a minute or so, then roaring again but it definitely did not seem as loud and seemed more to the left. I very slowly pushed myself up and peered over the tailgate of the Landy. In the moonlight I could see pretty clearly a lion lying about ten metres away from the back of the vehicle and he was facing me. As I was sitting up he began to roar again. I could see the condensation shooting out from his breath as he roared in the moonlight. After he stopped, the maker of the second roar I had heard made his presence known. It was his brother, lying about thirty metres away facing slightly away from me. I do not know for sure if those lions saw me that night, but was treated to a an amazing experience as I sat in the back of that Landy. This experience is on my all time best list of things I have been fortunate enough to experience in the African bush.
Those two lions sat in those positions for about forty minutes and alternately roared one then the other. By the end of it I had sat up completely and was sitting with my back to the cab of the Landrover with the sleeping bag up over my head. Throughout the time that they were roaring there was another lion responding far away. Then slowly they got up and started to walk in the opposite direction, to the lion I could hear replying to them. I am sure it was their third brother on patrol checking in. In the morning the guys from the drilling company told me this was a terrible place and asked why would I want to stay here. There had been lions around their tent all night they told me!
These lions were Daniel, Day and Lewis - the kings of the new camp sitting and the surrounding areas. This was my first meeting with three lions that I would spend a lot of time with over the next three years. When I first encountered them in a vehicle, on a game drive, they immediately got up and ran for cover and I knew then it would be a long slog to get them accustomed to the vehicle and us. However, we did it and slowly Daniel at first, then Day, calmed down and would let us be in their presence in a vehicle. Lewis was and still is a bit unsure and will always slink away and put a bush between him and you and stare through it at you. The next mission was to get them used to us on foot and it has been an even harder struggle. Despite what many people think, lions in the day time generally want nothing to do with humans and run away. That’s not saying that at night they do want something to do with you, but they are definitely a lot braver then. Daniel has always been the most confident of the three brothers and a real bruiser. Of the three, he was by far the most scarred on the face and had a twitch in his right eye, possibly from an earlier fight. As the senior lion, Daniel did the majority of the mating in the pride. Day and Lewis are more 'pretty boys'. Daniel was satellite collared and given a yellow ear tag by the Hwange Lion Research team quite a few years ago. This collar together with his ear tag, twitching eye, very scarred face and of course, the fact that he was the least skittish, made him easily recognisable to us from the beginning.
We persevered and have walked and walked and tracked and tracked these lions over the last few years and finally the other day was the first time that the boys have not run immediately from me when I see them on foot. This was the day when I met Daniel, Day and Lewis on a walk - alhough if you have read my other post about the meeting you will not think it was so friendly, it was however a major turning point as they stood their ground. I would have loved to have been able to back up a bit that day, then sat on the ground so that we would have been in view but still a good distance from the. However my guest was not enjoying the situation and we walked out. For me though, the point had been reached and now we could hopefully achieve the aim of being able to walk in, sit with the lions and walk out. This is only really achieved by doing just that over and over again to get to a point where the lions will accept you at a distance of their choice. This distance varies from cat to cat.
The reason I have written this piece is because today we found out that sadly Daniel was shot in self defence by a National Parks ranger two days ago. We had heard that a lion had been shot but the area the lion was shot was not really in their usual range so we thought it was a male from another pride that is usually in there. It was not however, it was Daniel. To say that I and the whole camp team are gutted is an understatement. I have never been a fan of naming any wild animal as it is not yours and never will be. However Daniel and his brothers became a massive part of our lives when we built the camp here. I am very happy to have known him and walked with him. The king is dead.
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