South Luangwa National Park allows you to get up close and personal with some of Africa’s most amazing animals, including the ‘King of the Jungle’: the lion. Whether you want to be this close to a whole pride of one of the world’s most ferocious mammals is for you to decide…
|In the jungle, the mighty jungle...|
|...the lion sleeps tonight...|
Unlike the elusive leopard, we saw lions on each of our four visits to South Luangwa. Each showed different behaviours and came with their own degree of awe/trepidation (delete as appropriate to you).
I was within five metres of lions in Etosha National Park in Namibia. The most important difference between there and South Luangwa – and the reason for an elevated heart rate in the latter – was the vehicle in which we were driving. I guess you’d argue that a car without windows, doors or much protection at all is a truer game drive experience, allowing you to get within touching distance of some rather imposing predators. The obvious counter to that is that they can easily touch you, too.
The first time we encountered the leo panthera in South Luangwa was on a beautiful morning, with a cloudless, baby blue sky complementing the stunning variety of greenery growing tall from the dusty floor. We were informed that a male lion was hiding in a bush, protecting his pack’s recent kill.
Our driver, who seemed to possess a complete disregard for human safety and respect for sleeping lions, decided to swerve our car across the long grass, right to the edge of the bush, before inexplicably turning off the engine. Less than two metres from our car was the male, lying horizontally with his rear facing us and panting at an alarming rate. This was either due to feeling hot or feeling full from the amount of zebra he has consumed. Either way, something annoyed him and he stirred, lifting his majestic mane and staring at…me. Though it felt like longer, he almost immediately returned to his slumbering position in the shade.
Males are rarely if ever involved in the hunt so the handiwork of bringing the zebra back to base must have been done by a lioness. She arrived on the scene soon after, casually crossing the road before moving towards the carcass.
Our driver once again wanted to give us a better view, meaning he started driving closer to the sleek lioness. Initially startled, she then elegantly leapt over the carcass, which the lions seemed to have eaten from the behind judging from the massive hole, before eyeing us nervously from behind the remains. Her eyes, like the male, were a beautiful yellow. Once again, we were within 10 feet of a lion.
The following morning, we returned to this road and found the same lion panting violently whilst on its side. The difference this time was that he was in full vision on the side of the road, rather than in the thicket of the bush.
|You can see from the blood around his mouth that this lion|
ate heartily during the night
Fittingly, lions were the final major animal was laid our eyes upon in South Luangwa. The whole pride were out in force, stalking silently in the distant dark. Clearly more meat was needed after the denouement of the zebra feast.
This wasn’t the first time we’d seen the lions after sunset. After driving around more distant parts of the park to see different animals, we returned to the zebra cadaver and found the male and female lying down, facing each other.
No other lion was with them at this point. This is because they were all up the road. We had been informed that lions often use the road during the wet season as the bush is too thick to easily walk through – this was the spectacular result.
The male in the group broke off, yawned as if bored with the attention of numerous spotlights, and then relieved himself before rejoining what had now become a single file line.
Our driver used this opportunity to undertake all of the other cars, which were fixated on the male, and get ahead of the lions. This meant that the lions were about to walk past us.
To be that close to these marching lions, with minimal protection, was quite the adrenaline rush. It was a little bit scary, though the focus in their eyes was such that they weren’t going to be distracted from their aim, whatever that was, by mere humans.
The lions are clearly used to the attention as well. One lioness took a break to lie in the middle of the road and soak up all the adulation and camera clicks.
After investigating down a road to the right for a short time, the lions returned to the main road and marched on towards the dead zebra. We were told that they were in the same pride as those lions we had seen previously so no fight for food was going to happen.
You could argue that it isn’t fair or right to get this close to lions. Certainly, we learnt our lesson when it came to doing the same with elephants on our last drive. The difference here was that the lions weren’t remotely phased unless it directly impacted on their resting or feeding. In fact, it seemed that they almost revelled in the spotlight. The arrogant strut betrayed an utter confidence in their position as Kings and Queens of the Jungle. I feel very lucky to have witnessed something so awe-inspiring and magical as that night march at close quarters. My heart rate has just about recovered!
Love you all