Here's a really great story from a close friend of mine.
By Chris Stafford
It was a warm night, nearing the end of winter, and the group of students was tired after a day spent in the dry bush of the Pilanesberg, practicing their newly acquired bush interpretation skills. After making sure that the night watch schedule was understood by all, I went to bed early looking forward to a good night’s rest under my fig tree awning. Nature, however, had other plans and at one o’clock in the morning, a firm shake of my foot woke me, and my back up guide hissed “Wake up! We’ve got lions!”
Our group of trailists was camped at Three Trees in School Valley, and the weekend was a jointly run trail between Bushveld Training Adventures and The Wilderness Leadership School. The purpose of the weekend was to practice skills learned through the year, and to use the opportunity to introduce the students to the wonders of connecting with one of the last areas of wilderness available to us.
After scrambling out of my sleeping bag and grabbing shoes, rifle and torch (in no particular order), a quick assessment showed me that a pride of 6 female and sub adult lions were in the process of investigating our unfenced camp area. As our camp contained 2 groups at the time, my first concern was maintaining control of the students, but after all they’d learned, they proved to be quite a help, providing enough light with their torches for NASA to monitor! My back up, Graham, was keeping 3 lions at bay to the rear of the camp, the closest animal being a mere 12 meters away. Sakkie’s backup, Alan, was closely watching as another 3 animals approached our camp from the plain that we overlooked. Sakkie, having experienced this many times, mumbled something about “can’t you all just lie in bed and enjoy their presence?” as he staggered out to have a look, arming himself with a nearby stump of wood instead of the .375 rifle propped against his tree.
As Sakkie and I moved forward to confront a large lioness who had intent in her eyes, we gave instructions to two students to provide us support in the form of torch light. Our approach went smoothly until we crossed into the lioness’s comfort zone – the point where approaching humans wearing boxer shorts only became far too threatening! The response was a loud growl and a short rush, resulting in total darkness for us as the students hurdled the by now raging fire that stood in the path of their escape route. Upon finding that cocking his stump provided no meaningful result, Sakkie hurled his piece of wood at the cat, transforming her from a fierce beast into a feline version of a golden retriever! The tension of the moment was relieved as the cat satisfied her curiosity with the piece of wood instead of my leg. Eventually the lions decided that we were boring hosts, and slowly moved off down the valley.
A half hour later I was again woken by the sound of a cat fight down the valley, and a couple of minutes later our night watch raised the warning, “they’re back!” This time they filed past in a determined rush, the reason for which becoming clear a few moments later as a large male lion announced his presence with a resounding roar. With our torches we picked him out where he sat about 100 meters away, and there he stayed for the rest of the night, serenading us continually, and ensuring that we got no more sleep. What a way to welcome in the new day!
When spending time camping or trailing in big five country, you should always post a night watch. Lions are generally scared of humans, but at night their behavior changes and they can become quite inquisitive. There was no malice in our encounter with the lions, but all the same, I’d rather be awake and aware when they get that close! There is always excitement in the bush and whether it’s a battle between dung beetles, the majesty of a wilderness vista or uninvited guests in your camp, there is always something to keep you enthralled – just keep your eyes open and it will be there.