The Day the Early Bird Caught the Lions (and the Idiots). A wonderful account of a day in Kruger by
My first serval was seen on this road, my first huge pride of lions, the Jock males in their outstanding brutal beauty, a black coucal, cheetahs hunting, leopards climbing trees, huge elephants and rock pythons, a rhino jumping out of the bush just as I settled in a squat for a quick pee! So many memories carved in its 25 odd kilometres of exquisiteness. (I conveniently forget the numerous times I have driven it and seen diddly squat on it!)
The night was sluggishly going to bed and a thick mist rose with the sun, letting through slivers of the most beautiful, muted, oranges and pinks. Cobwebs, spun in silver, glistened amidst the long grasses for as far as the eye could see, and trees glowed mystically in the ribbons of dew. Magnificent kudu horns were silhouetted against the rising sun, with their bodies lost in the shoulder height golden grass. The rattling cisticolas sang from every bush and guineafowls ran amok, throwing up dust from the road as they chased each other up and down in a singleminded frenzy.
I know this road so well, every curve, every rock, that I can drive it in my dreams without missing a beat and can pinpoint all my most treasured sightings to the exact spot. There is a slight decline in the road and, as we approached it, I noticed some rocks that were unknown to me and that certainly hadn’t been there yesterday. My heartbeat increased and The Hubs called it, “Lions!” But it was even better than that. It was lion cubs! Four of them, plonked in the road, looking less like predators and more like teddy bears.
Three were a few months old, maybe four months, still spotted and inquisitive, catching blades of grass and drawing them towards their soft tummies as they languished on their backs, or swatted each others’ tails. However one was tiny, really small and it was hard to imagine he had left his den sooner than a few days before. It seemed quite mad that they had been left alone, so close to the road, in the open, in the middle of hyena territory. What had the mothers been thinking? A million maternal instincts assaulted my body as I ran through all the terrible scenarios that could play themselves out in the next few hours, for these almost helpless and desperately vulnerable youngsters. I often think back and wonder what I would have done if a hyena had come walking along the road at that time. Would I have sat back and watch nature unfurl as one is supposed to? Would I have revved the engine and scared the hyena away? Anyway, no hyena came and I never found out what my reaction – or for that matter, The Hub’s reaction – would have been, and for that I am grateful.
We watched the cubs – or should I say guarded? – for the best part of an hour. The slightly larger ones would move a few steps and the tiny cub would cry plaintively for a good while until he eventually got up and moved to what he perceived to be the safety of his cousins. I readjusted my attitude towards their mothers as I realised no child will stay exactly where you put it for a number of hours, even with the strictest of instructions. I am sure they had been stashed safely by their mothers, and the cubs, full of energy and adventure, had unwittingly left the security of the hiding place.
As the sun rose and burned off the mist, the humidity rose. The cubs, slowly, tailed by their tiny cousin, moved away from the road and into some wonderfully dense thickets where we eventually lost sight of them.
I was content they were safe from prying eyes and so we made the decision to drive on. We had covered about 15 kms in two hours and we still had to pack the caravan and move on.
The early birds really had caught the worm! I smiled, smugly.
I loved every moment of the drive. The bush was spectacular as black and white blended with the greens, azures and blues of glossy starlings, the hysteria of the francolins, the malevolent magnificence of a gymnogene hunting for weaver chicks, the rutting impalas, the rumble of Lynyrd and the whispers of my heart.
Reaching the end of the S28 we reluctantly turned South. Sigh. Please can we just drive it one more time?
Around a shallow bend we were met with bedlam. An almost physical assault after the tranquility of the road just travelled. Seven male lions and a road full of lunacy. The lions filled the breadth of the road and fools filled the length.
There must have been twenty vehicles parked higgedly piggedly either side of the lion roadblock, the nearest ones within 3 metres of the languid lions. People sat on car ledges, stood up through sunroofs, people yelled at each other to make way so that they could see. It was mayhem. It was easy to discern who the regular Krugerites were as they sat, engine off, with their head in their hands at this spectacle. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was milliseconds away from being proven in front of my eyes. (It is interesting to note that at no time did I feel the slightest of maternal feelings for these people and actively wished that the lions would give them a bloody good scare! I certainly wouldn’t have interfered.)
As the majority of the lions were hidden behind a blockade of cars, we could only occasionally see a leg or a tail. By now we were also unable to reverse away as a flood of cars coming from Lower Sabie had joined from the back and we were stuck. This turned the sighting more into a people watching fest than a lion fest.
Incredulously we watched as people brushed their hair, applied lashings of lip gloss (men and women!), pouted up and jumped out for a selfie with lions! The cars were gridlocked and I witnessed Reason capitulate and head North! It was madness.
No one died (doesn’t bode well for future genetic material) and we eventually escaped the lunacy after the lions sought shade in the thickets and gradually drifted in that direction.
The contrast between the two sightings could not have been more vast. The first so peaceful, so beautiful and the second so ugly and intemperate. The major difference? People!
We were very happy that us early birds had caught the worms, the smiles, the dawn, the cubs, the very best of the day, and that we only witnessed the stupidity of people when it was time for us to move on again.