Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Tourists

The sound of Arnie’s engine died away. We shifted and jostled in the van straining to see why all the land rovers and overland trucks were clustered in the area. Buffalos were interesting, especially in a herd as large as this one, possibly upwards of 200 head?  I am a far cry from being able to estimate herd sizes, but I was impressed none-the-less. There was an electric hum in the air though. We could hear people in the other vehicles chattering excitedly in hushed tones, but could not see what all the drama was for.
And then we saw them. Lions. Seven big lions slowly sauntered out of the bush. They paid no mind to the humans and their vehicles strewn about. Their objective was the buffalo. They had dinner on their minds and we were privy to the meal plan.
In awe, we watched over the next hour as the lions slowly made their way closer and closer to the ever drifting buffalo herd. The sun made its way across the sky, but still the lions stalked their prey apparently unnoticed by the lumbering bovines. Other vehicles stopped to take in this awesome sight and a festive feeling filled the air as flashes could be seen from a multitude of cameras. We opened Arnie’s slider door to better see and photograph this lion hunt in the process. It was invigorating to watch, even at its slow pace across the savannah.
The lions fanned out keeping low in the scrub grass. Somehow they communicated between themselves and seemed to focus their attention to an area at the back of the herd. I know that predators tend to attack the old, weak or young and we guessed at where they would centre their assault. They inched closer and closer to the shuffling buffalos.
When the lions were about ten feet from the herd, the wind shifted. We were a ways off from the activity, but we could clearly see some of the larger male buffalos flick their heads and look around. Disappointment seemed imminent for all the effort that the lions had put in. We could see the lions tense and tensed with them as they debated making a last ditch attack. A hush had fallen over the human observers, but camera bulbs still flashed.
And then the gig was up. One of the buffalos turned and bristled. Four or five of the bulls broke off from the herd, that now hastened its pace away from the perceived threats behind it. They spied the lions and charged at them. The lions knew they had been beat and skulked off from the running bulls. The massive horns on the buffalos heads were an effective deterrent for most beasts to change their minds on an attack. No dinner would be had for the lions tonight.
My tale does not end there though.
It was thrilling to watch the hunt and just as awesome to witness the defeat of it. The lions retreated back towards the bushes from where they had originally emerged. There was no hurry now, so the big cats sauntered away from their spoiled dinner plans, but headed directly towards the watching vehicles. Again, cameras came to life as the lions drew near for spectacular close-ups. What a treat this evening game drive had been for many a happy tourist!
I watched the lions plodding along in fascination, until my mind clicked. I had the slider door open and seven hungry predators were headed in my direction after missing out on a potential meal. The puny sides of our little tin can would be no match for their razor sharp claws, but it would be even easier to snatch a quick bite with nothing in the way but a few articles of clothes.
I quickly pulled my legs back into the van and scrambled to my knees. I grabbed the handle of the slider door and reefed on it to pull it closed. It slid across, bumped into the side of the frame and bounced back.  The door had not closed. As I peered through the crack in the doorframe, I watched the lead lioness sprawl three feet from our front bumper. Another lay down behind us. Still more plunked down just to our left. My knuckles turned white on the handle of the door and my heart tripped into overtime. I could not open the slider to see if I could slam it shut again. What if it didn’t seal and all I accomplished was gaining the attention of the hungry felines that surrounded us?
A whimper escaped from me, as I clung to the handle. We could not start the van and drive away, as so many of the other vehicle were now doing. The starter had not worked on the van in months. Arnie required a push start  before he would acquiesce to spring to life. There was no way that Brett and Oliver would be jumping out of the van to push the vehicle far enough to have it fire to life. There were lions on either side of the front wheels! A passing vehicle informed us that two more males were lying in the bushes just beyond us as well.
Good  Christ, my mind screamed. What were we going to do!
Limp humour from the front seat did not lift my spirits, as the sun marched steadily towards the western horizon. It would be dark soon. Most of the other vehicles were gone as all vehicles were to be out of the park by 6:30 and it was quickly working its way towards 7PM. Brett called over to one of the straggling land rovers to inform them of our dilemma.
“Mind giving us a push,” Brett shouted. “In a bit of a tricky spot and the kombi is a push start at present.”
They conversed back and forth, then the other driver agreed to give it a go, figuring to shove us with his bush bar. I pictured Arnie’s bumper getting mangled days before we were set to sell out, but I preferred that to becoming dinner.
It was at that moment that the lions decided that it was time to move off. The ladies rose and walked off a pace. Brett and Oliver wasted no time in jumping out to race Arnie down the track and mercifully he sprang to life. As we sputtered to life and began to drive, I pulled the door back and swung it closed with a monstrous effort. With that click, I sank back shaking. I finally breathed a ragged breathe and felt adrenaline coursing through me. Lifting my hand, I saw it visibly shake and knew that the threat had been terribly real. We would not be lion steaks tonight though. We had definitely had the excitement that we had been seeking and could leave stating that we were indeed very happy tourists.
 

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