Zululand is well known for hot and humid mid-summer days and to-day was no exception. I was due to meet my trail group in the late afternoon and as I drove to Masinda Camp, I pondered what type of people I was about to meet and how they would fair out in the bush under primitive conditions. As I pulled into the parking area, I was met by six fit looking, thirty plus guys who as it turned out had got together and booked the 5 day trail to come and experience the African bush on foot.
During our orientation talk I was soon to learn that they were all commercial pilots from Johannesburg and were really hoping to see lion on our trail. As you know this is quite a tall order as lions don’t just sit behind every tree waiting for their tin of ‘whiskers’ do they?
We spent four splendid nights in the bush and walked many miles encountering so many different animals, birds, and reptiles. We saw black rhino on two occasions, and I forget the number of white rhinos along with buffalo and so on. Every night as we sat by the firelight, we would hear lions roar from various parts of the wilderness area and inevitably the conversation would centre on the possibility of an encounter with the elusive large cats.
Although I really tried to find lions on the trail, we were unsuccessful and I noticed on our last return walk back to the parked Landover there was a certain amount of disappointment, not only from them who turned out to be really nice, enthusiastic fellows but also for me not being able to deliver the goods. However, we piled onto the landrover and headed for the base camp without much conversation.
As we came down the incline before crossing the Black Umfolozi River I managed to see what looked like some lions lying on the river sand under the overhang of the reeds. They were about a half hour walk from the river crossing and the sun was beginning to dip over to the west. Time was tight! I turned to my team and asked if they were up to some excitement to which they unanimously agreed. So, without hesitation we parked on the opposite bank and started making our way towards a tree that I had earmarked near where the lions were resting.
We walked in single file in total silence, but you could feel the excitement mixed with obvious fear as well. As we neared the said tree, I gave final instructions as we edged forward. I cautiously halted the party as we got to the riverbank and crept forward to see to my surprise a young male lion looking straight at me, about fifty yards downstream. It snarled at me as I retreated to the group who were wide eyed with anticipation. I then gave some terse instructions; walk onto the sand behind me then stand absolutely still. No camera clicks or talking, understood.
We gingerly walked onto the sand and right into a pride of nineteen lions. My oh my – we might have bitten off more than we could chew!! As I rammed a round into my trusty .458 rifle all hell broke loose right before our eyes. Lots of growling, snarling and aggressive behaviour. Let me tell you that these kinds of encounters are accompanied by an inaudible amount of noise and really test your nerves.
While all this was going on the lions had fortunately decided to depart the scene except for a lone lioness who sat on the sand looking at us in a foul mood. It was at this point that I decided to take one step towards her to see what reaction I got. She immediately sprung to her feet and came bounding towards us and I managed to lose off a round into the sand to try and turn her away, to no avail. The lioness then broke into a straight run at us, ears back, tail straight. This is all happening in split seconds as I am able to reload and fire a second shot into the sand, which showers her with river sand and has the desired effect. She turned, ran up the bank and demolished a thorn bush just out of anger.
It was then that we heard the cubs hidden in the scrub calling. No wonder she had behaved like she did. I turned around to see the guys a lot paler than before sitting on the sand. So I jokingly said “I thought I told you to stand behind me’ to which they nervously laughed and said that their knees wouldn’t hold them up any longer.
All in the name of dedication!!