By Ned Jones – Volunteer at EcoTraining
It was around 5:30 pm on a warm February evening in a river crossing at Karongwe Game Reserve. The area was very pleasant, with tall reeds on the one side of the road and then open green grass on the other. The river banks were lined with huge Nyala Berry and Sycamore Fig Trees. The sun was beginning to set over the Drakensberg Mountain Range, signalling the start for the crepuscular and nocturnal birds to begin their day.
We stopped here for a coffee stop after a long game drive looking for the lions that were sighted at the southern part of the Reserve. We had heard on the radio that they had been found a long way upstream from us. Standing just five meters from the vehicle with our backs to the reeds, the group of us decided that we would look for some cool animal tracks and test ourselves on some of the grass types.
After a couple of minutes, we decided to move back toward the vehicle ready for our departure back to camp. We were packing up our coffee station, putting our coffee mugs into the cooler box when our instructor, Jasper Visser, looked toward the reeds and calmly said “Oh lion”. The lions had obviously moved downstream and were slowly moving through the reeds towards our coffee station area. Our instructor Jasper, professionally and calmly instructed us to slowly get back onto the vehicle, leaving the coffee station as is. We watched the whole pride consisting of four lionesses, one male and two cubs walk right out in front of the vehicle.
The Lioness walking behind the pride turned toward the vehicle and looked directly at us for a short moment. She then charged the vehicle right where I was sitting! My heart was pounding! Jasper then shouted at the lioness a couple of times to move her off and she sauntered away following the rest of her pride.
It was an insane experience where I felt my heart had stopped! In all the rush we did not have time to pack the coffee station and a couple of minutes later they returned curiously to see what it was. One of the funniest parts was when the tablecloth blew in the wind slightly and they all flinched and jumped back away from it. When Jasper instructed us to return to the vehicle, one of the other students dropped his hat and that the lions decided it would be a good toy of their cubs! So, we watched them running off into the bushes with it in their mouths.
Overall, it was a fantastic experience and one that I am uncertain if I would want to repeat it or not. I must also give credit to Jasper, who in this situation conducted himself professionally and placed our safety first.