Since my mum passed away the writer in me kind of went silent. Your mum's passing is something you will never truly get over I believe, but it is something that gets easier to handle with time. When I had been not long back in camp after my mum's passing I was out on a drive one morning, when the radio came to life. It was Dave calling me to tell me that the “boys” had been seen at Masuma twenty minutes ago!
For those of you that don’t know “the boys” can only refer to Day and Lewis. The two remaining dominant lion brothers from the Mohican Coalition that operate in the area of Hwange national park that I am privileged enough to basically call home.
It took me a second to decide what to do. I radio camp and tell them I am coming to pick up Changa. He is the resident tracker in camp. I told my guests to hold on, we got something to do. We arrive at Masuma and have a quick look as we drive through to the hide. I jump out and run into the hide and ask the three people sitting there if it is them who saw the lions. The reply is ” yes, but you won’t see them now as they have gone into the bush” I smile and ask him if he can tell me where they last saw them. He says he will show me as they are leaving now. We head back to the southeastern side and they show me the elephant path they walked away down. We jump out and there are the soup bowl-sized paw prints in the fine dust. Immediately I am buzzing! I am with two guests and have Changa the tracker with me. Good size group to track lion and a fantastic pair of eyes in Changa! I do a safety talk and tell them what to do and what not to do and what to possibly expect.
We hit the track. It is easy going for about two hundred metres as they have stayed on the path. When I say easy going…We are following the two dominant male lions in the area down an elephant path, we know they are very close. Maybe I will change the word easy to exhilarating! They leave the ele path and walk into the grass. We stop and I mark the last track. Changa and I step away from the track into the two most likely directions. I do a couple of small arcs away from my side and see a feint track in the hard ground a couple of metres away. I click my fingers and signal I have the track again. Changa comes to me and the guests follow and we continue. We lose and find the track a couple more times where the boys have meandered a bit it seems. As we are slowly making our way a francolin flies up from just in front of us in the grass. Everyone freezes. I turn and look at my two guests with a huge grin on my face. If you don’t feel ALIVE now…you never will!
Then the track joins another ele path and this leads us to an open area that is full of short grass and a lot of small clumps of blue bush. Anyone who knows lions in Hwange knows they love the shade and cover that blue bush provides. As soon as I see this area I signal for everyone to go down on their haunches. I tell Changa this is where they will be and we must move even more carefully and slowly now. He nods and we move forward.
More often than not when you track lions on foot they will hear, see or smell you first and you will sometimes get a polite guttural growl to let you know that you have come far enough. If you choose to move forward and pursue after this polite warning then all bets are off. Sometimes you will just hear a grunt and see their rear ends disappearing into the bush and often that is all you will get.
We move forward another few steps and I tell everyone to crouch again as I want to have a good look with my binos ahead. I look and don’t see anything. I am thinking to myself that the sun is now well up and it is warming up. These boys are going to be snoozing already. We move on about another ten metres when I see them. I immediately tell everyone to drop down. They are both lying down about thirty metres ahead at the edge of a blue bush. We sit for a minute and I see that on that if we pull back and come in from another angle we will have a much better view. I tell everyone to crawl back the way we have come and remind them..” don’t run, no matter what happens” We pull out and move around and get into a brilliant position about fifty metres away. We sit there for at least ten minutes and the boys don’t move. I think when you are the king of the jungle you sleep soundly. Who would be crazy enough to creep up on you?
Everything is looking perfect as far as the approach. We have good open flat ground between us and a couple of small bushes I can use for cover. The breeze is blowing steadily in our faces. I decide to move closer. We inch forward on our bums making sure we don’t make a sound. We get to thirty six paces away from them (I counted them after) and sit. We sit and watch the kings fast asleep for about another ten minutes. I turn and ask my guest for her camera and film a video of one of the boys as he has now rolled onto his back enjoying the sun, I turn and video my two guests who are looking a little apprehensive. I hand the camera back and whisper to them that when Day who we are watching lying on his back continues his rollover, his eyes will probably be open and the first thing he is going to see is us sitting and staring at him. A minute passes and Day continues his rollover and what does he see?
His head is up immediately but he just sits and stares at us. I spoke earlier of the feeling of being alive! Believe me, this is the point when you really feel alive. Sitting thirty six paces from a massive male lion who has just woken up from dreamland to see you sitting and staring at him! Day just sits and stares at us, he has not even made a sound to alert Lewis who is sleeping about three metres away from him. Sitting staring into wild male lion’s eyes at that distance on foot with nothing but a bit of short grass between you is in my opinion spiritual. I can honestly say that in those minutes we spent staring at each other I thought of my mom and said a little thank you in my head to her.
After a while Day stood up but still didn’t show any aggression, more like confusion as to what were these things? They were not there when I went to sleep? He walks away parallel to us and stops again and looks at us. The fact that we have not moved a muscle and are still crouched down is what is throwing him. He disappears down into a depression. I tell my guests to slowly stand up and back up the way we have come in. As we stand we hear the guttural growl. Day has gone along the little depression parallel to us and is just peeping over the top. He grunts again and trots off. Only now does Lewis sit up and see his brother trotting away and four humans standing thirty six paces away. He leaps up and runs after his brother. We can see them clearly running off and when they are at about a hundred and fifty metres they stop and look at us and then at each other. I can almost imagine them saying to each other, how did that happen?