Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Lioness, and Another Sasan Gir Surprise

One of my 9:30am game drives in Sasan Gir (when it is quite hot), I was lucky enough to find two lions, and not have a ton of other jeeps with me, or any handlers.  Believe it or not there are still villages in the park, tribal people who have buffalo that they take to graze (and yes, the lions do eat their buffalo).  We passed a herd of buffalo and their shepherds (not sure what the correct word for buffalo tender is) but one of the villagers told my guide and driver that there were lions up ahead in a gully.  Sure enough - we found them not too far ahead, two female lions laying a ways back from the road in the dry brush.  This is essentially the scene, if you look carefully you can see the two lions:
As required, I had a driver, and a park ranger with me, as well as an English speaking guide provided by the wildlife company I booked with.  The ranger's job is to enforce the park rules - one of which is not to get out of the vehicle.  My driver did not speak more than a few works of English and most of the rangers (you get a different one each drive) didn't either - some tried, some didn't.  This particular guide did not speak more than a word or two.  I was busy zooming in to try and get a good photo of the lions, and I was really grateful not to have any trackers or other tourists yelling - I thought I'd finally have a nice lion sighting on my own, with a natural setting.

I was looking through my camera - and I was vaugely aware that the ranger had gotten out of the jeep and disappeared.  I assumed this was either to relieve himself or to inform the villager who'd told us about the lions exactly where they were - that was about all I thought of it.  And then, to my utter amazement, he entered the frame of my camera, to the right.  He was carrying a stick in his hand and he began to chase the lions towards me.  I could not have been more shocked - it was certainly NOT what I wanted, but the damage was done.  The lions came closer to me and to the road.
They both laid down, close to one another but in the slight shade offered by some dry bushes.  The ranger, having moved them towards me as he desired, was walking in a large circle behind them back to the jeep.  I was focusing again on taking some photos, so I was looking through my lens at the lion closest to me and the jeep.  Now, if you have cats, or you've spent much time with any, you'll recognize the behavior that she displayed here:
 First, she raises her head and notices something - I thought maybe a deer....
Then she lowers her ears and enters stalking mode...and her body crouched, her muscles tensed, and I began to wonder if I would see her hunt and what she might be hunting.
Her eyes tracked something behind me, and I turned to see what it was.  Guess what!  The ranger, walking down the road, about 6 feet from her, with nothing but a stick in his hand a great big smile, expecting a big tip for chasing those lions out of the bush for me.  For a moment I really was concerned for his safety, but she just watched him get back into the jeep.  But I know that she was viewing him as prey in those seconds that she went into stalking posture, without a doubt.  And he was oblivious to this.  My guide, using a small camera, actually was taking a video - about halfway through you can see her go into stalk mode, and it is more impressive to see it on video than stills, watch for her to notice the ranger at about :42:

Asiatic lioness video

I asked my guide to be SURE to explain to future rangers NOT to do this, ever again, on any of my drives.  No chasing lions with sticks when it can be avoided, period!  I took several photos of the lions before we had to move on in order to be able to check out of the park on time.  This was the only "peaceful" visit I had with Asiatic lions, not that it was unmarred by the above obviously, but it was a solo sighting and once the lions were near me, they relaxed and we had a few moments of peace together.




When it was time to go, we stopped near the second lioness for a bit - she was much thinner.  She was just laying there, and apparently my driver was concerned that I might not get a good enough photo, so without warning he - less than 4 feet away from this adult lioness, opened the jeep door - right in front of her - and stepped out with his backpack in his hand.  I immediately said "NAY, NAY!!!!" and so did my guide - though the ranger didn't.  I have no idea what he intended to do and I did not want to find out, but just when I thought I'd seen all the shocking behavior I could in Sasan Gir from humans, I was again proven wrong.  Again.  My guide explained the driver was just trying to get me a good photo - I don't know if he doesn't appreciate how quickly a lion could maul him and how much he was putting himself in the path of danger, or WHAT his thought process was, but I would hate to think that ANY tourists endorse, encourage or reward that kind of behavior, on the part of ranger or guide.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This may be a repeat comment.

Who would ever think to state at the outset, "I don't want anyone to chase the lions with a stick or get out of the vehicle and pursue them."

I recall a ranger taking my camera and snapping some shots of a lion that was just out of good range for me in the vehicle because the vehicles were kept at a certain distance. That was reasonable for the ranger to do and even respectful of the lion.

But chasing with sticks? At the end of some of your excursions you must have thought, "What the heck just happened?"