October 13, 2009

Lions following students by Garth Edwards

Within the make-up of the Selati lion pride are three juvenile males(real mommy's boys) of approximately two years old. Whenever we approach the lions per vehicle, these three show intense interest in the bait, um tracker, perched tantilisingly on the front of the vehicle. So much so, that we have often had to reproach them with loud shouts of 'voetsak!' It appears that all animals understand the meaning of this word.

We have also had a number of encounters with these lion on foot and they have always made it more than interesting. Anton Walker's(a current 1 year student) first approach to lion, as lead rifle, ended with us walking out of the sighting, closely followed by two adolescent male lions, who sprinted forward every time they lost sight of us. Most disconcerting! Anton learnt to speak 'lion' on that retreat.

Recently, acting on information supplied to us by LEO, I lead an approach on the pride. I invited Jenny from LEO to participate and she jumped at the chance, leaving her students sulking on the vehicle. She fell into line, complete with machete and, at my quizzical look answered: "I never walk in the bush without my panga!" Who am I to argue with a lady holding a panga?
The lion were ensconced in shortish grass, just below a levee, on the northern side of a drainage line. They had made a kill and were still busy on it judging by the steadily increasing numbers of vultures perched in the leadwoods above them.

We made our approach from the south, across a sodic site, giving the lions a complete view of our approach, so as to not spring any surprises on them. One of the adult females took umbrage at our approach and advanced in a growling, snarling rush of warning that loosened the matter in everyone's bowels and rendered my command to 'stand still', obsolete. She stopped thirty metres away and then, to the students' dismay, nonchalantly disappeared behind a Grewia. "Where's she?; Ah shit she creeping up on us!; She's gone, just gone!", were some of the comments that preceded my , "Relax guys." I decided to continue around her position, approximately 50 metres to the west and we completed a 180 degree arc without seeing her or the rest of the pride. Disappointed!

We were taking a break on a termite mound when we spotted the heads of a juvenile and a female. They quickly disappeared, so I decided to walk down to the east of their position, hoping to create a better view. We emerged onto a small sodic site, without a view of the lions and thick brush to our west. I decided then to back out and return to the vehicle, disappointed at not seeing the kill, or any of the other lions. We walked 50 metres, paused and listened, walked 50 metres, paused and listened, walked . . . suddenly, I spotted a furry face protruding from the bushes 15 metres behind the last student. I stopped, pointed and reassured the visibly nervous students: "Relax guys. It's one of the juvenile males. He's just curious. We are going to continue walking out of here. He will probably follow us. If he gets too close, just tell him to back off."
I turned to walk them out and they followed. Suddenly a Flamenco dance sounded behind me as eight students clicked their fingers excitedly. I turned, asking a question with my free hand and they answered as one: "He's following us!"

"Didn't I just state that he would?' I answered and then turned away from their disbelieving faces and we continued our exit. One of our students, Dietlof (nicknamed Wimpy), was famous for languishing at the back of the trail during activities, resisting all entreaties and encouragement to walk up front where he would absorb more. Now, as I turned to ensure that the young male was not too close, I suddenly found that I had to extract my elbow from Wimpy's midriff. Discretion is the better part of valour, they say. He had much ribbing to endure for the rest of the course.

We made it back to the vehicle without incident and lost our tail in the process; he obviously decided that we were not going to run and would therefore be no fun.

Jenny was ecstatic; her students were not!
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