Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Lions in Samburu

Samburu is a great place to see leopard and cheetah, both of which I saw there last visit. I'd never seen lions in Samburu though, and this trip on my last morning there, on my last game drive, my guide spotted a male and a female lion laying in the shade on the river bank. We were able to get within 10 feet of the sleeping male, and on the far side of a bush from the female. As we were about to head home after watching them for several minutes, the female got up and walked off, and the male rose to follow. First, he approached a nearby bush and opened his mouth, smelling for something.

Then he walked towards the car. I was in an open vehicle - no doors, just a bench seat on wheels. He was a foot from the edge of the vehicle, and I could see all his ribs. He stared at me directly in the eyes for more than a minute, and I was absolutely still. While my rational brain was saying "He won't jump in the car, he knows about tourists, he's used to cars, he doesn't see me as prey," etc., my primal brain was very fearful and my heart was racing, because there is a certainty that you are NOT on top of the food chain and that this animal could kill you in a heartbeat, and you have no weapon and wouldn't have time to use one if you did (nor would I desire to - if I put myself in a position of being a lion's lunch that's a perfectly honorable way to die, no sense harming the lion over a choice I made, not him). The intensity of having a lion stare at you with penetrating amber eyes is a thrill I had once before and once later that morning, and I highly recommend the experience to one and all as absolutely unique, well worth having, and memorable beyond words.

The two lions went off down the road, the female resting in the shade of a bush on the right and the male on the left. Ahead about 50 feet, four male impala wandered along the road. As soon as the female saw them, she crept off into the bush, headed their way. The male soon followed. the impala went towards the river, and the lions crept in towards them, making a V, the female closing in on the right and the male on the left. At one point the impalas, totally unaware, crossed a clearing 3 feet in front of the lioness. Why she didn't pounce right then I don't know.

The lions were closing in, when all of a sudden two families of elephants came to the river to drink. They entered the bush where the lioness was, and very quickly one of the matriarchs chased the lioness straight out of the bush. The elephants didn't see the male, so he remained in place for awhile, but eventually decided the hunt was ruined, and went off after the female.

We probably stayed very close to them for an hour. As the male moved off, he again came within a foot of the car, this time on the other side, and again stared directly at me. It was a great experience, and if a lion has never stared you in the eye, you are missing out on something special.

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