We drove for nearly 2 hours to get there, and it surely was worth the effort. We set up camp on a small clearing at the foothill of a koppie, and after a safety briefing and explaining guard duties and responsibilities the students settled in around the fire and watched the night skies come alive.
JP and myself decided to place our sleeping mats a little bit away from the main group underneath a small mopane tree. We fell asleep under peaceful African Skies. Or so we thought…
At around 02:30, Deon Volschenk, one of the night guard duty students, started his 45 minute guard duty shift. Still sleepy, he shone his torch for the first time, and when the light fell on the area where JP and myself were sleeping, he saw something moving towards us. His initial thoughts were Aardvark?… Leopard?… LION!!! There was a lioness stalking the two of us, less than 10 meters from where we were sleeping! Deon immediately jumped off from the vehicle, and came towards the two of us. This was enough to make the lioness turn and walk off into the bush.
As cool as a cucumber he even whispered in our ears: “JP, there is a lion!” This is off course the type of sentence that makes anybody jump up at lightning speed. I managed to see the lioness as she circled camp and disappeared off into the bushes.
We decided to wake the group up and inform everybody that there is a lioness prowling our sleeping spot. Calm however soon settled in, and most people went back to bed again. JP and myself decided to move right next to the duty post should the guards see the lioness again.
Gift Sibuyi, an experienced tracker who is now studying to become a Field Guide with us, decided he did not want to go back to sleep, and he stayed up with some of the other guard duty students. At 04:15, he saw the lioness stalking the group again. This time she stopped at 20 meters from us. Being closer, Gift woke up instructor Ben Coley, and as he shone the torch on her, she walked off from camp again.
When it got light, we re-tracked the events and the lions. Gift was the first to catch a glimpse of the lioness as she ran through the bush away from our camp. Myself, JP and 3 experienced trackers decided to first approach, and that is when we got a visual of them. It was actually 2 lionesses and a young male lion. Being at a safe enough distance we allowed the students to approach. Everybody in camp had the opportunity to see these cats as the casually sat in the early morning sun, viewing these strange bi-pedal intruders. Not once did they show any signs of aggression towards us, in fact, they were not bothered by our presence at all, and after a while they casually got up and wandered off into the bush.
What an Epic Sleep-out, and what a great farewell present!