It’s about 05H30 in the morning. I have some guests in the vehicle and we’re driving slowly along the N’waswitsontso River. The bush has greened up after the rains, the grass cover is high limiting our vision to ten or so meters around us. The sand road stretches ahead of us, winding its way to and from the riverbank. The Jackleberry trees look magnificent, so do the Nyala berries and the figs – A great place to take in some of the wonderful birds hanging around this ‘fruit and veg’ extravaganza. Parrots, green pigeons, barbets and perhaps one or two of the rarer species will come into view. I’ve selected this route because of its proximity to the river – early morning drives along a river can easily toss up some of the more high profile animals like elephant, lion or leopard.
Just then a lioness crosses the road in front of us. She is looking for her pride – she walks to and from the bushes, scenting the air, letting out a soft Humph, stopping briefly to listen – then into the thick bush and down the bank into the riverbed – gone from our view as suddenly as she appeared.
I stop the vehicle and quickly explain to my guests that although we cannot see her, we need to listen, absolute quiet, and listen for her soft calls, and any return calls as my initial assessment was that she was trying to either locate her pride, or call them to her. We stop. The sun is beginning to light up the bush and the coolness of the early morning shade begins to evaporate into a warm humidity – signing in another hot day in the Kruger. The birds and insects around us provide the audio – in full stereo surround and the smells of herbs, wet vegetation and fresh elephant dung drying in the morning sun pack into a sensory bubble of expectation as we watch and listen for lions.
Another grunt – from the lioness – and then in the distance, a roar, and answering call from a lion – not the full thirteen part territorial roar we hear late at night, or in the early mornings, just an answering roar, and the good news is that it comes from our left. “The pride will cross the road, they’re coming to her.!” I feel excited, but know full well that they may cross out of sight. They may even be relaxed, and simply wait deep in the bush for an hour or so…We wait, 15 minutes have passed since we saw the brief sighting of the first lioness. I tell my guests that although lions vocalize in social contact – they also, like the true cats, use olfactory senses to maintain contact. “There are glands under their feet that will leave a scent trail,” I explain, “Let’s wait at the point that the lioness crossed, and see what happens.”
30 minutes pass; there have been no more vocal communication since the roar. “It’s probably because they no longer need to call – they’ve made contact!” I reflect on how difficult it is for us to stay in contact when we loose visual contact. “We’ll always have to rely on radio or telephone coms. In the bush, our ears and sense of smell are simply just too inactive to even think of using them to locate each other.” I muse. “Perhaps some of us can track down a footprint or sign but when we loose visual contact in the bush – most of us will become lost!”
45 minutes have passed. We’re all waiting. Waiting for lions because of a location call coupled with a theory. I reflect how nice it is to simply watch and listen to the bush around, the sounds and the myriad of colourfull flashes as the birds fly from one source of food to another. Life’s good in the bush, but now the sun is really beginning to switch on the heat. “5 more minutes…” I am about to turn to my guests and call the sighting over when I catch the first tawny shape moving through the bush towards us. “There, a lioness!” I whisper. Then another, and another start moving towards our vehicle – they move onto the road less than five meters from us and flop down on the cool sand. Then, as if by magic, five two month old cubs come squirting out of the long grass in playful jest – like ping pong balls dancing in an air bubble, kittens at play – eyes alert to the next point of interest, and in this case it happened to be us. They ran straight up to the vehicle to have a look – only to move back five meters when mom called.
Two adult male lions followed – black mained and majestic, they didn’t come onto the road, but walked across – one directly behind us, and one in front of us. The lionesses, the cubs and the two males stayed with us for 15 minutes, milling around the vehicle, rubbing each other in cat like greeting, and visibly enjoying the coolness of the gravel road. Then they moved off, as quietly as they came, they slunk into the bushes, down the riverbank and out view.
What a great sighting! “I’ll call it ‘waiting for lions’, “I said, “and write it highlighting the importance of being able to interpret a theory.”
“Would you have cared if the lions didn’t turn up?” I asked. “No, not at all,” they all mused, “It was a wonderful experience just to sit and listen to the life around us!”