For almost every visitor on safari in South Africa, a lion sighting is at the top of the list. For this reason every guide wants to find them. Once we have managed to find a lion sighting for our guests, some of the pressure to ‘deliver’ is off. I don’t mean this in a bad way. We know our guests have often come a long way to see our animals and for many it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Much of that pressure is self-imposed because we genuinely care and want to ensure that your holiday is amazing!
Unfortunately, lions tend to have extremely large territories and so can be difficult to track down. Here in the Klaserie, many of the lodges work together to find those elusive tawny cats, with the person calling them in over the radio being the ‘hero’ of the moment. In my time here so far, I’ve not yet had a lion sighting related ‘hero’ moment. I’ve become somewhat adept at spotting Saseka, my favourite leopard, and have enjoyed my mini-moment in the spotlight as I called her in to everyone’s joy. But, no lion. I dreamed of finding my first lion for myself!
My hero moment
Then, a few nights ago, it finally happened – BIG time! It was late and I was still far from camp and started mentally planning my route home. I had not long got the incredible results back from my camera trap experiment and thought why not give that area a try? I never usually drive it, but clearly the animals are in the area, if well hidden. Thus, I began making my way through the rocky valleys and thick raisin-bush scrub, spotlight hunting for eyes shining in the dark. All of a sudden, I turned a corner and my light picked up something in the road….A LION!
Hardly containing my excitement, I quickly turned off the engine so as not to spook the dozing cat and picked up the radio…my big moment. “All stations, I’ve got Ngala!” (Ngala is the word we use for lion – although maybe I shouldn’t be telling you that haha). I waited. No response. Again, “All stations, all stations, I’ve got NGALA”. No response. As luck would have it the other cars in the area had already gone back to camp! Not wanting to give-up on my fast-dwindling hero moment, I switched over to our neighbouring properties radio channel and tried again…
“YES EM!” came the first response. “Great job! How many have you got?” Came another. A third voice popped up “Awesome! What’s your location?”
Finally basking in my moment and buzzing for my guests, I picked up the radio once more to respond. At the same time, I started to edge forwards closer to the relaxed lion. As I did so, I saw more movement catching the edge of the beam. Swooping my spotlight round, I realised I hadn’t just stumbled on one lion, I’d stumbled on an entire pride. And they were on a buffalo kill. AND there were tiny little cubs!!!! JACKPOT!!!!
“I’ve got the whole pride here on a buffalo kill. There’s 3 little cubs!” My guests were whooping and clicking away with their cameras in the back, giddy with excitement. I wasn’t far off either – the other stations were overjoyed at my find and made plans to come see the lion sighting at first light. As they had a large, fresh kill, they wouldn’t be going anywhere by morning.
The lion sighting
Adrenaline still pumping, I calmed down enough to take a good look at the scene before me. Switching on guide mode, I began to interpret for my guests – telling them what was going on and some of the pride dynamics. Overall there were 10 lions we could see; 7 adults or sub-adults and 3 cubs. The cubs looked about 3 months old so they will only just be introduced to the pride. Their mother was feeding and they were calling her constantly as every time they approached her on the kill, the other adolescent lions growled at them to leave.
Eventually, having had her fill of meat, the female relented and lay on her back for her cubs to suckle. A heart-melting moment as they rolled and rubbed adoringly on their loving mother. The rest of the pride continued feeding until their stomachs were completely distended. Some walked away to sleep-off the impending meat-coma, while others continued to defend their part of the carcass jealously.
Finally, over an hour later, we decided to leave the lions in peace and head back to camp for a belated, celebratory dinner. That night, reliving my long-awaited moment over in my head, I could hardly sleep. I was so excited to find them again in the morning and see everyone’s reaction to my awesome discovery. For me, it wasn’t really about the lion sighting. They’re not even my favourite animal. But knowing the joy that I brought to so many people, guides and guests alike, made me feel incredible. That’s why I love guiding. If it was just about the animals I’d probably go into conservation. But I love to make people happy, and I finally got my big chance to do it!