If She Comes... Remember...Don't Run!
If she comes, remember…don’t run.
I hate it when the wind blows hard in the bush because it generally means that your sightings are not going to be great as most animals retreat into the the thicker stuff to get out of the wind. The animals you do find can be pretty skittish as the wind is coming from all directions so two of their main senses, smell and hearing are being messed around. It has been blowing hard for the last two days in Hwange and the sightings have not been great because of it. Now, to add insult to injury, a cold front has come in, so this morning it was like a winters day with a gale blowing! Not great for spotting game.
We had been out driving for about and hour and a half and had literally seen one Impala Ram all morning and he ran when we saw him. “Mmmm…. this is gonna be a tough morning” I thought to myself.
As we were driving up to Shumba Pan I noticed that there were a lot of Vultures in the trees. I pulled up to the pan and had a good look through my binoculars. I could see loads of Vultures in all the big trees behind the pan, and I knew something was up. Too many Vultures in one spot for there not to be. “No roads where all those Vultures are so we going on foot”, I tell my guests.
I quickly run through a safety briefing and explain that if the vultures are all still up the trees there is a good chance that whatever made the kill is still around and probably still feeding, or lying up close to the kill. We had seen two lioness the previous evening in this area and they had walked off in the direction of where majority of the Vultures were. We had also seen a old injured Buffalo bull limping around the pan on a few occasions.
We get onto an Elephant path and head towards where the majority of the Vultures are. I keep stopping and looking through the binoculars and I am looking for where the hooded Vultures are sitting. Hooded Vultures, being the smallest of the Vulture species we get here, have the luxury of being able to land just about anywhere. The bigger and more common White Backed Vulture generally land in bigger trees and those with little or no foliage so can end up landing a good distance from the kill, if they can’t find a suitable tree close by. Hence the Hooded Vulture often land closer to the kill.
We walk about a kilometre down the path and see lots of Buffalo spoor and then some Hyena, but no lion tracks. When we have pretty much gone past where the last of the Vultures are sitting i decide to walk in about a hundred meters and walk back parallel to the path we have just walked in on.
We walk a couple hundred meters and come up on an old Elephant skeleton, we stop and I talk about it for a bit and then carry on. We cut through another Elephant path and start to walk down it. Then up ahead about a hundred and fifty meters I see a lioness lying on a little mound. She is lying broadside to us and has not see us. Quickly I tell my guest to drop down. We look at her through the binoculars for a bit and I can see that there is a Buffalo carcass to her left, about five meters away. I turn and tell my guests “if she comes, remember…don’t run”.
We sit and watch, then move forward slowly. Then I see another lion looking at us to the right of the first cat. We stop and drop down. I look through my binoculars and see that it is a half grown cub. It dawns on me that this is a lioness and cub that I had seen about a week prior on our concession. The cub is staring at us and mum is still sleeping. Then the cub gets nervous and trots off. The lioness wakes up and looks at her cub moving off and looks around to see why. She doesn’t look in our direction though, and relaxes again. We move forward slowly keeping low. The lioness lifts her head again and looks around, this time she sees us. Her head drops low and we hear the classic lion rumble that says “I have seen you and I am not happy about it”.
We sit and look back at her. I tell my guests again “if she comes, don’t run”. I always find that to constantly keep reassuring and reminding your guest when in a potentially dangerous situation it helps to keep them calm and keep them in on the plan if all suddenly changes. The lioness just looks at us and rumbles. We look back at her. Then she stops rumbling and seams to relax. I move forward at an angle making sure that I am not coming straight at her but slowly closing the gap while making it look like we are going past. Then a big grunt and she stamps her front paws and the rumbling starts again.
We drop down and wait for a couple of minutes till she calms down again. We move again at an angle and then a clear path opens up through the scrub and we can see he perfectly. We move forward a bit and she rumbles, tail flicking from side to side. We wait and she relaxes again. We move forward slowly on our haunches and she just stares at us. Over the next twenty minutes we slowly move forward a little bit a time on our haunches until we are about twenty five meters from her. She just stares at us, the odd flick of her tail, but not to much aggression. Then she stands up and walks over the the carcass and stares at us over the carcass for a minute the starts to feed. I am thinking “BRILLIANT!”, she is relaxed enough to start feeding, this is a great sign. We sit and watch her. She feeds, and every now and then looks up and stares us. I tell my guests again “ if she comes, remember….don’t run”. She is now feeding and looking at us a lot less so we move forward again on our haunches. She look up, but no rumble just looks and then starts feeding again. We get to about twelve meters from her and we stop. She look up from the carcass and the feeds again.
The cub starts to move back toward the kill as the confidence of mum is giving her confidence. The cub comes forward the stops and just stares at us. The lioness then stands and pulls the buffalo over so she can feed on another part of it. You can see the muscles in her shoulder and back tensing as she does this. Amazing to see from a car, on foot at twelve meters, a little more than amazing. I am just thinking to myself… “I am at work here, this is my job”! We sit like this for nearly an hour and she just continues to feed, every now and then looking up at us. Then she stands and looks at us again and walks over to her cub who runs up to her and rubs heads with her and call in a low contact call moan.
Then the lioness flops down in the shade and just looks at us. I tell my guests to stay low and move straight back slowly. We move back and she just watches us go. She never did come!
Julian Brookstein is a Professional Safari Guide and manager of a premium bush camp within the magnificent Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Julian's infinite knowledge of the African bush, it's wildlife and everything around it ranks him as one of the best you get in the industry.
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