is the original version of the article, an edited version
of which was printed in "Adventure World",
Jan 2006 issue. The story is absolutely true, incidentally
- and represents the highlight of my first 4-month trip
The blind was too small to accommodate
my 6 foot plus frame, and my head, feet or arms kept
sticking out. Between visions of hyenas nibbling on
my appendages, my lack of comfort caused due to a large
stone jabbing into my back and a vague but firm conviction
that snakes were lurking nearby, I was not sleeping
Around 11:30 at night, I woke up and
turned over, hoping to find a better position. As I
opened my eyes, my heart lurched and I almost jumped
right out of my sleeping bag – less than 3 feet
away from me and close enough for me to pluck her whiskers
in case I so desired (I did not), peering over the stone
walls of our blind, was the large and unmistakable silhouette
of a lioness’s head!
Rewind a few weeks. It was September,
and I had already been travelling in Africa for over
3 months. My budget was running low, and much as I wanted
to, it seemed as if I would have to give Hwange National
Park in Zimbabwe a miss. It was quite by chance that
I ended up a Bulawayo cafe, having a coffee with Mike
Scott of Khangela Safaris, whom I had met earlier, who
told me of an experimental plan to photograph rhinos
drinking water during full moon. It sounded very interesting
and a welcome change from the run-of-the-mill tours,
and I needed no convincing to jump in.
Thus it was that midnight found me
getting off the Vic Falls-Bulawayo train at Lukosi station.
Mike had warned me to watch out for wild animals, as
the station was in the middle of the African bush, on
the outskirts of Hwange NP, with only two people –
the station-master and the caretaker of a hut where
I was going to stay the night – in the area. However,
I wasn’t prepared for what I got.
Two dim lights and a second set of
rail lines were all that indicated that this was a railway
station. There were no platforms, no signs, no houses
and quite definitely, no people. As the train’s
lights faded away, I realized that I was standing in
the middle of the African bush, hundreds of miles from
civilisation, with no human settlements in sight. I
was seized with a very strong sense of “What the
Hell Made You Do Something So Stupid As This”
(a feeling I seem to get far too often for comfort).
Thankfully, the full moon meant that
it was quite bright. Unfortunately, the full moon meant
that I was a very visible target for anything that was
looking for a man-sized snack. This state of affairs
meant that standing around cursing myself, satisfying
though it felt, was not a viable Long Term Survival
Plan. So as per Mike’s directions, I summoned
up the courage to get away from the meagre comfort of
the lights and walked along the tracks for a few hundred
meters where I found turn off which did lead to the
hut where I was supposed to stay.
Unfortunately, of the caretaker there
was no sign and the hut itself was locked. Grumbling
a little to myself, I decided to set up my tent in a
clearing next to the house, and turned in to sleep.
Just as I was nodding off, loud grunts and growls woke
me up. Poking my head cautiously out of the tent, I
could see several large shadows not too far away from
the house (and my tent). A large herd of elephant was
passing through the very clearing where I had set up
my tent, making a tremendous racket as they did so.
I lay very still in my tent, not daring to make a sound
and hoping fervently that my dome tent would not offend
pachyderm sensibilities. The elephants stayed in the
area for a long time, and finally, despite their loud
bellowing, I ended up falling asleep.
The night somehow passed, and early
the next day, the caretaker showed up. He had decided
to sleep in the station-master’s house (wherever
that was) the previous night. No harm done, as it turned
out, and besides, I was feeling much better now that
the sun was out and nothing had decided to make a Man-Sized
Snack out of me. A little later, Mike and his spotter,
Bernard, drove up in his Land Rover and we were off
to Hwange. We stopped for a while at Sinamatella Camp
to complete entry formalities and to have some brunch,
enjoying a glorious view of the Hwange plains as we
munched on our meat pies. Next stop: our campsite, from
where we would then walk to the watering hole.
After an early dinner over a campfire,
Mike and I packed some essentials for the night and
departed for the blind, which was some distance further
downriver. The river itself was dry, and on one side,
the riverbank rose about sheer 15 feet off the sandy
riverbed. At one place, there was a cutting that led
up this bank, and it was against this cutting that Mike
had erected a semi-circle of rocks, about 2 feet high
and 4 feet in diameter, which was to serve as a blind.
The rear of the blind, which was open and set against
the cutting, was our “escape route” in case
“things went sour”, as Mike put it.
A sheet of green netting and tarpaulin,
thrown over a couple of planks, made up a roof of sorts.
There was a 2 foot gap between the tops of the stone
and the “roof” – ample space for us
to observe game without being seen.
After setting up our camera equipment,
we went out to inspect the waterhole, which was about
30 feet away from our blind. It was a bore-hole dug
by elephants to access the flowing underground water,
but used by other species of wildlife as well. Looking
around, we saw spoor of several types of antelopes as
well as a solitary set of rhino footprints, a day old.
Cheered by this, we returned to the blind and settled
From Mike’s experience, the
rhinos usually came to drink around 2am, and were quite
noisy when they did so. Since we also had a full day
of game tracking on foot ahead of us the next morning,
we decided to get some rest.
Thus it was that I lay tossing and
turning, with a particularly sharp-edged rock digging
into my back and visions of snakes tormenting my dream
psyche. And it was in that delicate frame of mind that
I opened my eyes to see the lioness staring right back
Initially, my brain just registered
the shape and nothing else - I actually closed my eyes
again as I completed the process of turned over. Then
my sleep-numbed grey matter decided to stop worrying
about snakes and process the image it had fleetingly
glimpsed. “Hyena,” was its first (and rather
feeble) offering. “Nope, not the right shape….
Bigger… feline…<Click>…oh BLEEP.”
Suddenly, I was no longer sleepy,
no longer worried about snakes and no longer bothered
by the sharp-edged stone digging into my back.
I sat up and yelled, at the top of
my voice, something that went “EEEEAAAAAHHHOOOOOO”
(which roughly means, “I hate to bother you, Mike,
but there is a lioness trying to get in. Would you terribly
mind shooing her away, old chap?”). My ever-so-suave
squawk shattered the stillness of the night, and the
effect was electric. The lioness leapt back a clear
15 feet, probably more startled than me. Mike, who had
been sleeping, woke up with a start and a “wha..
By now, my vocal ability had recovered,
although my heart was still trying to leap out of my
chest cavity. I yelled again, a little more coherently
(and a lot more gracefully) this time, “LION.”
Then followed a short period of frantic
activity in our little shelter. Lacking the adrenalin
jolt that I had received, a still-groggy Mike started
fumbling around for his rifle and looking around to
see what the situation was. The lioness was standing
about 20 feet away from us, haughtily ignoring us and
doing her best to to convey the impression that she
really *meant* to leap backwards 15 feet. I was fumbling
around myself, trying to simultaneously reposition my
camera, grab a weapon with which to defend myself and
convince my heart to stop trying to run away from my
Suddenly, Mike started yelling at
something on his side of the blind – a something
that turned out to be a large male lion that was heading
towards us in a very determined hunting crouch. The
lion leapt back startled but very soon resumed the stalk.
This time, Mike threw some stones at him and he retreated
and hid behind a small plant, still fixated on us.
Imagine, if you will, a three hundred
pound plus lion, hiding behind a 2 foot tall, half inch
wide plant stem, smirking and thinking “I am totally
concealed. They cannot see me. Hell yeah, I am a rocking,
cool ninja lion”. Were it not for the fact that
my testicles still hadn’t dropped, I would have
probably found it funny.
Now Mike borrowed the torch and was
fumbling around for some fire-crackers, with which to
scare the cats in case they decided to attack. I was
supposed to keep an eye on the cats, but as I did, I
noticed the lioness looking off into the distance –
on the side away from the male lion. Borrowing the torch,
I shone a light – it was too far away to see the
animal, but 2 bright green eyes stared back at us. Great
– most likely another lion. The one time in an
African safari when we would have been happy with a
few less lions, and what happens? We’re hip-deep
So – it was us sitting behind
a 2 foot wall of stones, one offended lioness ahead
of us, one ninja lion stalking us on the left and a
third animal, most likely a lion, on our right. We had
a shotgun, but the lions had claws and teeth , and neither
said "Replica" (with apologies to Vinnie Jones
and "Snatch") - this really was an impasse.
So we stared at each other for a while.
The lions finally lost interest in
us and decided to have a drink at the waterhole –
right where my camera was pointing, pre-focused and
ready to shoot.
I was a little nervous about how they’d
react to a flash, so it was with great trepidation that
I fired off a shot. I was ready to apply my jujitsu
skills if the lions had charged (on Mike, of course
– not on the lions. I don’t think jujitsu
works well on lions. Their joints are different). Anyway,
the flash elicited no reaction whatsoever. Encouraged,
I took a few more shots, but I always made sure Mike
was within an arm-bar’s reach of being held out
as a Scooby Snack/peace offering, just in case. Mike,
if you are reading this, nothing personal, eh?
The lions then moved off to the other
side of the river and proceeded to indulge in territorial
calling, also known as roaring.
About the roaring – let me put
it this way. A lot has been written about the awesome
power of a lion’s roar, but mere words incapable
of describing the visceral impact of that roar. It hits
you like a large wave, and beats against your chest
cavity. Your internal organs quiver – partly from
the force of the roar, and partly from a genetic memory
that reminds you that man was not always on top of the
It was at this point that Mike decided
to go back to sleep, which ain’t right or normal.
I sat up for a little longer, replaying the adrenalin
of those few minutes and waiting for my goose-bumps
to settle down, when another by-product of adrenalin
kicked in: I had to go relieve myself. Waking up Mike,
I asked his opinion.
“Huh? What? Mmm.. yeah, go ahead.
No sudden moves. They know we are humans, and won't
bother us anymore. It isn’t a big deal.”
Isn’t a big deal? Isn’t
a BIG deal? We were in a small hide, surrounding by
three large lions who felt our presence was enough grounds
for them to have to reaffirm their claim on this land,
and it was no big deal? I was (and still am) very curious
to learn what would meet Mike’s definition of
a “big deal”, but hey, he was the expert
and I was just another person with no thought of snakes
on my mind – and besides, I really had to go.
So, showing a level of blind faith
that would do a missionary proud, I stepped out of the
blind, acutely aware of the two moon-lit lions I could
see on the other side of the river-bed (about 25m away),
and also the third lion, which I couldn’t see.
They were lolling about, relaxed... until I stepped
out of the hide, that is. Two (or possibly three) pairs
of heads snapped to attention, and two (or possibly
three) interested pairs of eyes locked onto me. Two
(or possibly three) heads turned and followed me, step
by step, as I walked. Anyone who has seen wild lions
knows how they can go from "relaxed kitty"
to "bad-ass predator" mode with the smallest
of change in expression and posture, and as I walked
a few paces out of the hide, I was acutely aware of
this shift in their demeanor.
There I was, standing on a sandy river
bed in a forest at night, being watched by two (or possibly
three) lions. Two (or possibly three) large lions. Two
(or possibly three) large, big-clawed lions. Two (or
possibly three) large, big-clawed, big-toothed—STOP!
There are times when it is appropriate
to mentally review the various killing instruments with
which nature had endowed lions. This was not one of
those times. If anything, I cursed Mother Nature for
her excessive and wholly unnecessary generosity in endowing
lions with all those weapons. Why couldn’t they
just have settled for sarcasm and irony, instead of
those big honking teeth and claws?
I turned around for reassurance, expected
eagle-eyed Mike to be sitting in a state of full alert,
gun ready and covering my back. Instead, going by the
snores emanating from the hide, Mike was fast asleep.
It was at this point that I also remember that a lot
of predators, when they kill, typically tend to eat
the victim starting from their anus, where the tissues
Most men have stood in line at public
toilets and can relate the concept of performance anxiety.
Well, let me tell you something: that isn’t squat
when compared to trying to answer Nature’s call
with with two (or possibly three) large, big-clawed,
big-toothed lions two leaps away from making your backside
the first course of dinner.
After what seemed like forever, my
business was done and I returned back to the blind.
The lions applauded my performance by letting off another
set of blood-curdling roars. Thankfully, they had the
decency to wait till I was back in the blind, otherwise
I would have probably have suffered deep psychological
After serenading us for a few
hours, the lions departed. In the morning, we saw the
pug marks all around our blind, confirming Mike’s
theory that the lioness had been watching us for some
time. Next morning, we tracked the lions on foot and
found them an hour later, resting under some bushes.
By the time we found them, they had brought down a kudu
– and yes, they were eating it rear-end first.
Side note - if anyone is interested
in an outstanding trip in Africa, one that goes beyond
sitting in a jeep, please contact
us and I will give you Mike's contact information.
His trips are flat-out amazing experiences - participatory
safaris that bring you close to the real wild Africa
and also give you a real in-depth understanding of animal
behavior. Mike is one of the most experienced Africa
hands I have come across and an all-around solid guy.
He really knows his stuff as well as knows how to run
a safe trip: you can go for as much or as little adrenalin
as you want. Needless to say, I get no commercial benefit
from this recommendation.