Mabuasehube Pan, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Distance : 21.6 km
At 11:30 pm, the lion started.
His roars washed across the pan with an arrogance gifted to those that occupy the very pinnacle of the food chain.
In no way was he worried that someone else might hear him and investigate. In fact, quite the opposite, it was a challenge to any warm blooded mammal in hearing range to dare come out into the dark of the moonless night.
It was the auditory equivalent of the Karate Kid hopping on one leg and cocking his head at his opponent. It was Neo in The Matrix, his full powers revealed, reaching out his hand and giving Agent Smith a ‘come hither’ flick of the fingers.
Hunkered down in my tent, protected by 2mm of fabric, a dusty, microfibre sleeping bag and 10 000 years of civilisation, I lay silently, listening to the roars echo around the pan. I wasn’t worried because, judging by the volume of the roars, the lion was at least a kilometre away.
Unfortunately, each time he roared (they would come every 5 to 10 minutes apart), it soon became apparent that the roars were growing louder. Which lead to the inevitable, and somewhat disconcerting conclusion, that the lion was getting closer.
To make matters worse, what initially sounded like an echo of the roar across the pan became discernible as a separate roar – which meant there was a second lion!
Half an hour later and the roar was emanating from right outside our camp. The second lion’s roars became two roars and I now realised that there were actually three lion. Not only that, they were obviously being called by “our” lion in the camp and heading towards us as well.
Finally, just after 2:07am (the last recording of the roars that I made on my phone) things settled down and the night returned to stillness. After the three had joined up, it sounded like they had moved off as we heard the odd roar coming from out on the pan. Relaxing, we all drifted off to an uneasy sleep, willing the morning sun to make its way swiftly towards us.
Gloop gloop gloop gloop…
I wake up to what sounds like someone decanting water from the 25 litre container on the concrete table next to the fire.
In the tent next to me, Mark hears the same noise and assumes that someone is up and getting water from the container to fill the kettle for coffee. With the eastern skyline just barely starting to lighten and a bladder fit to burst, Mark decided to leave his tent and head 10m out into the nearby bush for a quick bladder release. Since he had heard the lion move off in the night, he was not overly concerned about becoming a piece of giant kitty poo…
Meanwhile JanPutte, who sleeps in the back of his Land Cruiser, had woken up and seen movement in the A-frame. He hauled out his spotlight and shone it into the A-frame to see who was up so early.
And was confronted by the sight of two male lion moving around in the A-frame, standing on boxes, sniffing all around and checking what was left out on the tables…
I looked out from my tent at JanPutte to see what he was shining his light at and saw a lion walking past the far side of his car, silhouetted against the pale skyline. I called out “John, lion behind you”. John never heard me, probably because he was in his car and I was not shouting very loudly – an unashamed act of self preservation rooted in not wanting to draw the lion towards me in my extremely see through and totally un-lion-proof tent…
JanPutte then flashed his light at the tents in an attempt to try and warn us of the lion. Mark, returning from his nocturnal urination, saw the spotlight and, at the same time, the two lion in the A-frame. His semi-slumber stagger became a rather vigorous trot to the relative “safety” of his tent. Once safely zipped up in his tent that he shared with John M, he called out “Guys, there are lion in the A-frame!”
JanPutte “I know. I’m watching them”
At this point I am meerkatting in my tent, camera in hand, flash loaded, popping up to look out the side window of my tent towards the A-frame when one of the lion walks out from behind the wind screen we had set up by the fire and heads straight down towards me. As I am about the take a picture the old self preservation instinct kicks in again and I freeze.
“Probably not a good idea to take a flash picture, at night, of a lion walking towards you not 5 m away. And you in an ‘almost’ see through tent” my hind brain tells me and I wholeheartedly agree with him. The lion walked to Nico’s tent, the one next to mine, and took its time sniffing at Nico and Dietwin’s bags, Nico’s crutches and a few other odds and ends lying on the ground sheet. He then stuck his nose hard up against the tent and took a few extra sniffs…
Inside the tent, Nico is frozen in place, aware that the lion is there but not sure what it is doing. Dietwin – I am lead to believe – is sleeping quietly through all of this, blissfully unaware that there is a lion sniffing his feet through the tent. ( He may have been awake and taking the very clever route of not even breathing at this point).
The lion then turned, walked back around Nico/Dietwin’s tent and headed to Mark and John’s tent behind Nico’s. Inside that tent, Mark and John were lying down on their stretcher beds, keeping as quiet and still as possible.
The lion then leant against John’s side of the tent but fortunately came up against John’s stretcher so he backed off. Mark and John then swung their legs out of their beds and sat facing one another at the back of the tent.
The lion now moved to the back of the tent, reared up and put its paws up against the tent with the effect that the tent starting to fold inwards due to his weight. Inside the tent, Mark took the initial weight on his shoulder and, as the tent started to fold in, he and John pushed back against the weight until the lion dropped back down.
Mark then called out in a calm voice devoid of panic but with more than a hint of concern “Guys, we need some help here”
Kevin, in his rooftop tent, called out to JanPutte on the far side of the camp “John, can you get your car started?”
JanPutte, called an affirmative and then proceeded to climb from his back seat to the front seat of the vehicle.
Now, to get a mental picture of this you need to understand a few things – JanPutte (John Wells) is :
a) more than a few years over 60
b) almost as round as he is tall
c) hasn’t seen or touched his toes since the last millennium…
In his own words, the ‘from back to front’ manoeuvre in his car “looked very like an octopus trying to get out of a bottle”!
Meanwhile, back at the tents, John decided to give the lion a burst of pepper spray through the gauze at the top vent at back of the tent. Unfortunately, due to the gauze, most of the pepper spray decided to stay inside the tent…
Have you ever tried to stifle a really good sneeze? It feels like your are going to burst, right? Well, try stifling a sneeze brought on by vaporised pepper with a lion less than 2m away from you…
You can’t. I know. I heard the paroxysms of incompletely suppressed sneezes from my tent and was hard pressed not to burst out laughing when I realised what had happened. And before the seriousness of the situation dawned on me…
Mark and John now moved to the front of the tent where the flap was open but the see-through mosquito gauze was still zipped up. As they managed to stifle the last of the sneezes, the two of them heard a sound outside the main flap.
A slow motion turn revealed, less than a metre away, a full grown male lion looking down on them seated on their stretchers. Not daring to move, the two of them watched the lion watching them, wondering who was to be first on the menu!
By now JanPutte had started his vehicle. As he drove around the A-frame, the two lion inside decided to walk off out of the camp. The third lion decided ‘human’ was not on the menu for the breakfast – besides, they smelt horribly over seasoned, way too much pepper – so he joined his compatriots on the walk out of the camp. JanPutte, taking a lead from Sharpie’s previous example, herded the lion gently away from us.
JanPutte said that at no point did the lion seem to be aggressive or show any irritation towards the tents or the vehicle. They left the camp quietly and he followed them down the road. Once well clear of the camp he radioed back to us and we all leaped into the other vehicles to race over to watch the lion as they ambled down the road around the pan.
Two of the lion leaving our camp after an early morning wake-up call
No 3 – Death Stare
“I still haven’t figured out what that squishy thing was that I leant against last night. Tasted dry as hell…”
JanPutte and his lion herding vehicle in the background
Half an hour later the 3 lion grew tired of the main road and the unwanted attention – although they were studiously ignoring us all safe in our vehicles – so they slipped into the bush and disappeared.
When we went back to the camp and started walking around we pieced together what had happened. The ‘gloop gloop’ was one of the lion drinking water out of the tin drum that we use to heat up water for washing the previous night.
In addition, we discovered that the lion had not just leant on Mark/Jonh’s tent – he had actually taken a few ‘gentle’ bites at the tent to see what it was and that had pierced the canvas. One of the bites not only went through the canvas, it also went right through Mark’s knapsack, and its strap, piercing them like a 10mm thick needle…
The white “marks” around the bite holes is lion spit…and you can clearly see where his paws slid down the tent
The gauze through which Mark and John came face to face with the lion
Bite marks with a 500 ml water bottle for scale. The teeth holes are 10cm apart.
Mark lying in his stretcher with the bite marks behind him. The knapsack on the ground was completely pierced at the same time as the tent was bitten.
An hour or so after sunrise, a French couple came past and asked if we had seen any lion as they had just arrived at the park and were wanting to see some. After we recounted our story they left the camp shaking their heads.
Most of the day was spent doing admin – re-fueling, starting the packing of the food and drinks etc – as we would be leaving the park and heading for home the next day. Several times during the day we were visited by other campers as the story spread through the park and we were called on to show them the tents and recount our story!
The water drum the lion was drinking from is on the left. The poitjie pot from the night before is on the right – undisturbed – luckily for the lion…
An afternoon game drive was undertaken to see if we could find “our” lion but it proved fruitless although we did see some other game along the way.
Late that afternoon we re-positioned the camp site into a laager to try and keep the lion away from the tents! The only thing missing was the 2m tall stack of thorn tree branches…
Naturally, because of all the effort, the lion didn’t come around…
Stats for the day :
Distance 21.6 km
Min Alt 1039.470 meters
Max Alt 1180.530 meters
Max Speed 33.7 km/hour
Avg Speed 7.4 km/hour