THE REAL BUSINESS SIDE OF YOUR AFRICAN SAFARI
SOMEWHERE OUT IN THE SERENGETI PLAINS
Yesterday was a stellar day – lion kill and leopard sighting. Happened at around 5:30 PM when I was scanning the horizon looking for our bloody camp that seemed to be out not only in the middle of nowhere but in some outer reaches of the planet. Then, on our left and easily seen on the endless pains (I’m told this is the translation from the Swahili of “Serengeti.”) stood a lone zebra looking decidedly out of place in the middle of this vast field of low yellow-green grass. Closer inspection revealed a male lion about 300 yards away heading towards her. (In fact, the six soon to be many more jeeps lined up along the side of the track was a dead giveaway.) Then, when Mr. Young Male Lion was within 50 yards crouching low in the grass so that only his head could be seen, he slipped down into the swale next to the track and walked past maybe six or seven trucks that – of course – had stopped to watch. Obviously a very clever tactic (the using the lower level of the swale, not the watching) since he was now totally obscured from the zebra’s view, but close enough to Ramesh, Musawe and me that we could have reached out and touched him should we have been so dumb. As I watched him brush by our jeep it seemed to me that every cell in his body was concentrated on getting that zebra. You could feel it. Nothing, not the roar of all the camera shutters, the excited but hushed voices of the couple dozen safari adventurers leaning over the sides of the jeeps to catch a better view, nothing seemed to penetrate his single minded, uber-concentration.
After brushing past the half dozen jeeps ahead of us, Mr. Young Male Lion stopped, lifted his head above the grass bordering the track, stood still eyeing the zebra for ten seconds and then leaped across the plains after it. Zebra kicked the lion in the face and then headed across the road – lost sight of them here for about five or six seconds– but they both reappeared with zebra headed back to where he started from, young lion in hot pursuit. Zebra mounted a three foot high mound, looked around, lion leaped on his back, Zebra ran about five yards and that was that. She was down. Second young male lion – no doubt a brother we had seen earlier– had been slowly walking toward the action and now headed straight for the downed zebra and his brother. And then it was dinner time.
The leopard sighting about thirty minutes later was a bit different. Bunch of jeeps had spotted a deer carcass hanging from a tree limb, (OK. Not the jeeps but presumably their trusty guide/drivers) but I don’t think anyone had spotted the leopard yet. Ramesh saw him (or her most likely) just walking calmly through the grass. She walked parallel to the road past all the trucks for a while totally unconcerned, maybe a bit irritated at all the attention, but I could be projecting here, then finally crossed the road to a couple of water puddles where she drank for quite some time – I’d say over five minutes. Again, the roaring of three dozen camera shutters going off simultaneously split the air but Ms. Leopard simply ignored all the surrounding ruckus. Then we left. Well, we left after getting stuck in some muddy, rutty patch in the adjacent verge while detouring around the gaggle of trucks blocking our exit. But a quick, friendly nudge from a green colored jeep quickly resolved the impasse.
So, there you have it – the very essence of the safari experience: lurching around for hours on end over rutted dirt tracks, gripping handholds in a constant and desperate attempt to keep one’s head from being split bloody against the strong metal frame of the jeep, verbally shooing away all the pesky zebra who seem to multiply like bacteria in the warm, humid petri dish of the Serengeti and then WHAM! three or four minutes of life and death action courtesy of the natives of the Serengeti Plains just living their lives!