January 18, 2012


It was classic text book stuff – tracking and backtracking, waiting and listening, anticipation building, adrenalin pumping, and then action!

The group of EcoTraining students currently at our wilderness camp in Mashatu (Botswana) couldn’t have asked for a better start to their trails guide course under the guidance of experienced instructors Brian and Chantelle. Chantelle and her charges had to deal with a snarling lion while Brian’s group just managed to see the spots of a leopard disappear into a cave, but it still counts!

View it all here!

Chantelle was leading, with student Graham acting as backup, when excitement came knocking on their group’s morning walk.

Kyle, a South African student making a career change from previously studying teaching, logged the encounter as follows in his log book:

“We left in slight rain along the east west ridge, stopped to have a look at the waterhole, but there was nothing there. We had a route planned to go via the amphitheatre and picked up fresh lion tracks. There were only a few drops of rain on the track, so it was very fresh.
We sat in the rock pass, waiting to hear possible alarm calls, but nothing. We walked towards the river following the tracks through very thick fever berry crotons. Then we lost them but started tracking down to the river where we picked the tracks up again. They lead back into the fever berry forest and we continued tracking, walking in circles following them. 
We heard what could possibly have been mating calls and walked on. A male lion stood up from behind a bush on the other side of a shallow rise.
We formed a line behind Chantelle and her rifle and the lion made his first charge to about 10 metres. Chantelle shouted at the lion (using some colourful language!) and he backed off before coming again. We then backed off leaving the lion.
Once at a safe spot, we got extremely excited about our encounter, it was absolutely amazing. The first lion encounter on foot, awesome, awesome, and yet again awesome!”

Brian went another way with the rest of the students that morning. And although they didn’t have a heart-stopping-blood-pumping experience, it was nonetheless a wilderness experience in true African style. Sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t.

This is what Ashley, a yearlong student from the USA, recorded in her log book.

“We spotted a gymnogene (bird of prey) and then soon after had a fleeting glimpse of a leopard at about 100 metres.  It was climbing into a cave. We had trees and rocks nearby for cover if it decided to charge. However, the leopard used the cave for cover and escaped. The wind was swirling and reducing our chances of seeing it again. We did find tracks, and noticed that it was those of a young leopard.”

Phillip, from the UK and on the yearlong course, was one of the very fortunate students to come face to face with that male lion. And as remarkable as the experience was, he went a little bit of the beaten track when musing on what one of his lasting ‘audio’ impressions of his time here will be.

“My enduring memory of Africa will be the sound of zips, whether it be tents or backpacks. If I go back home after this year, it’s that sound that will always bring me back.”

(Thank you Kelly for the camera, Kyle for the "shaky" footage and Brian for the photos!)
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