Red in Tooth and Claw

Words by Bryan Havemann. Words by Bryan Havemann.

I woke with a start, and sat bolt upright. While trying to find my torch, I heard a low growl – and scratching – next to the thin wall of my 2-man tent. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I made out a large shape which was causing the side of my tent to bulge inwards as the creature moved slowly past outside.

I found my torch, turned it on, zipped open the flap a crack, and looked outside. Two metres away, an adult lioness stared back at me. She lifted her lip in a grimace of annoyance as my torch beam shone in her eyes, and then slowly walked away, grunting softly. Shining my beam round the camp, I counted many other lions in the camp, their eyes reflecting their presence. Not fazed at all, they were walking slowly through the camp and sniffing at the stuff lying around. I remained in my tent and waited for them to leave. A short while later, the pride started roaring – and it felt as though the ground were shaking.

At first light, I stepped outside and stoked up the fire; then I checked the camp. There were lion tracks everywhere, but what sent shivers down my spine was seeing the deep imprints where the adult lioness had squatted at my tent’s entrance, trying to smell what was inside. There were also clear indications that the same lioness had lain down right next to my tent.

My Hilux had lion paw prints on the tailgate where they had investigated my tool box and pulled off a canvas tarpaulin. I walked over to the field rangers’ tents, which were pitched about 50 metres away, and asked the rangers if the lions had worried them. They had only heard the roaring, and there were no tracks at their camp where the rangers had taken turns to stand guard at the campfire. Backtracking, we saw that the lions had approached the field-ranger camp along the road, but had then gone through the bush, bypassing the camp, and entered the area where I was camping. I’d had a small fire going but that had burnt out during the night.

As a section ranger in the Kruger National Park (KNP), I was often required to camp in remote areas. On this occasion my field rangers and I were doing patrols in the northern part of the KNP after an outbreak of anthrax, and had camped next to the perennial Phugwane River which snaked through the Mopani veld.

This particular pride of 13 lions hadn’t bothered my six field rangers because someone had been standing guard, and the lions had detected this human movement. Lions have an instinctive fear of humans and will generally avoid contact – but during the night they’re in their element and can see far better than we humans can.

My Hilux also had the smell of carcases on it from work we had done during the preceding days, and the tarpaulin had dried blood on it. This was why the lions had shown such an interest in it. Lions are curious by nature and would most probably be hunting or proclaiming their territory if they were moving around at night. The fact that they had started roaring shortly after leaving my camp attests to the latter; however, they are very opportunistic and will hunt if an opportunity presents itself.

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