It was late afternoon; we were approaching our campsite in Mabuasehube, in the south-west of Botswana; and a beautiful dark-maned lion was in the grass 200 yards from our campsite. As we put up our tents we kept an eye out for him, knowing that lions can be curious; but it was too hot for him to move. We knew that once the sun set, he was almost certainly going to walk along the sandy track straight through our camp, so before it got dark we moved our truck so it faced down the track towards him, hoping to keep him in view by the light of the headlights as he passed by. Sure enough, he started his deep guttural roars and gradually they got closer and louder. Eventually we knew he was just on the edge of camp, so we moved from our chairs by the fire and stood next to the vehicle. We had been in a situation like this before, but on that occasion we had retreated to our vehicle when we saw the lions; this time we hoped to hold our nerve and watch him walk by without feeling the need to hop in the vehicle. This may sound like complete craziness, but we had spent nearly 10 years living in Botswana and Zimbabwe by this stage and we had had so many encounters with wild lions in national parks and game reserves that we knew the way they normally react – sometimes curious, but definitely not seeing us as a menu item – if they did, camping in the Kalahari would not have been so high on our list of things to do!
The lion continues to come closer, completely unfazed by the headlights of our vehicle (lions are not fazed by many things), deviating for a minute to mark his territory next to our long drop toilet (appropriately), before padding straight towards us again. When he was about 10 feet in front of the vehicle we unfortunately lost our nerve and decided it was time to get in. Four of us tried to get in 2 doors (survival of the fittest) but after a little excited banter, we were all in the truck. The lion didn’t even look in our direction and continued on his magnificent parade. Once we were sure he was gone, we headed back to our chairs by the fire for a large gin & tonic!
About 20 minutes later he obviously reached the other campsite located further along the edge of the salt pan, because suddenly we saw flashlights piercing the darkness in all directions, coming together to silhouette a nonchalant big cat padding through the darkness. Experiences like this, in a true wilderness, are some of my most valued memories…
And, you guessed it, we didn’t manage to take a single photo!
Any more #WishIHadAPhotoWednesday stories out there?