The September 2013 winner of our monthly blog competition is Philippa Collins who shares her experiences of getting up close with lions!
"A night with the lions: a camping safari we will never forget.
This was no ordinary safari with luxury lodges. For us it was open air camping, travelling in a truck designed to carry the campers in the top deck and all the food, firewood, charcoal, tents and other camping paraphernalia in the mid-section. En route we bought fresh meat and vegetables from the local people selling on the roadside. The route took us from Nairobi up to Lake Navaisha with fantastic views of the Rift Valley; through the Masai Mari where we saw wonderful examples of the local culture and remarkable scenes of the wildebeest migration, lions galore and even a black rhino. But it was our drive into the Serengeti which gave us the most remarkable memories.
Imagine driving through the African savannah, at the end of a long day viewing game and travelling to a new camp site. At times you stop to “check the tyres” as the local saying goes, but as loo stops in the wild are not recommended, most of the group are dying to get to the loo. The truck drives into the camp site, between the acacia trees and heads towards the facilities block.
And then you see them: a pride of lions, including two cubs and several young males. A lioness is drinking from the drain which is only three metres from the loo! After the initial wonderment and awe: a shiver of shock. This is our camp site for the night. What do we do?
Nobody on that truck will ever forget that night! The scene I still recall with a feeling of unreality is the driver and ranger calmly walking towards the lions and shooing them away. Did they really do that? The lions certainly retreated and we set up our tents with unusual speed that night. Our cook meanwhile started to prepare the evening meal as if nothing had happened. So a few lions were prowling around – what do you expect in the middle of the Serengeti National Park? We sat around the truck eating supper, when someone called out “they’re back”. Waving our torches around without trying to directly catch their eyes, we saw at least four young males nonchalantly walking past less than 50 metres away. I cannot believe that I just stood there, plate in hand, finishing off my meal, watching the pride. They had left their kill nearby and were back for their own meal.
After a while some of the males began to growl, and we beat a strategic retreat into the truck. For safety we went en masse to the loo before we turned in for the night, with strict orders not to come out of our tents – if desperate use a bottle (ladies, don’t forget to take a funnel for such emergencies!) It was eerie all night, listening to the lions and wondering how close they were. Then the hyenas joined in, hoping to scavenge a free meal.
The next morning I was first up as I had booked an early morning balloon ride. The camp was peaceful, but on the way to the launch site we drove up to a lioness walking calming down the middle of the road, with two cubs playing along. Very likely it was the same pride. She did not move or run away until there was a fork in the road and she took one route and we took the other. It was if she was saying 'this is my territory, and you can come here on my terms'. Which is as it should be."
All words and images by Philippa Collins. For your own safari experience, check out our selection of wildlife tours.