If you’ve ever watched the original Jurassic Park movie, there’s a scene shortly after the T-Rex has broken through the high voltage fencing and is on the prowl. There is this long, gutteral, low frequency growl which is shown to cause ripples in a pool of water on the road. Now, imagine if you were experiencing that sound for real! I had been on safari in the Kruger for three days and was flying out of Hoedspruit the following morning so I suspect that our guide was trying to give us something to remember. We had been staying at the Pondoro Lodge game reserve and had had a wonderful few days with the usual pre-dawn starts and outings near dusk in order to experience as much of the bush as possible. During our three days, we had managed to experience sightings of four of the big five (the leopard being evasive as usual) but had witnessed no kills. The previous night, we had come across the tracks of two lions and our guide decided to start at the same point the next morning and see if he could pick up the trail again. We drove for hours all over the reserve until he eventually indicated to the driver to stop. I was there with one of my adult sons and he asked us if we would like to follow the tracks of the lions with him on foot. We of course jumped at the chance and duly followed a few feet behind him as he navigated his way for about half a mile through the bush from where the jeep had stopped. We were apprehensive of course but were somewhat comforted by the fact that he was armed with a high-powered hunting rifle.
After what seemed like ages but was in all likelihood just 15 or 20 minutes. He motioned us to stop and turning his head only slightly so that we could hear him, explained to us in a whispered tone that one of the lions was directly ahead of us, about 100 metres away. Both of us were extremely nervous — not only because we were conscious of the fact that there were no bars between us and this wild animal but also because we had been tracking two lions so where was the other one lurking? I had a video camera so I turned it on and zoomed in to the general area of brush directly ahead where the tracker indicated the lion was located and sure enough, I eventually caught sight of him. His camouflage was perfect, matching the colour of the surrounding brush. The tracker then began to instruct us as to what we were to do next. He said that whatever happened, we were not to panic and above all else, no matter what happened, we were not to turn our backs on the lion and run as we would then be automatically viewed as prey and hunted down! I had already begun to regret our decision to get out of the jeep but there was no turning back now. The the sound happened. Low and powerful, almost reverberating through the ground that we were standing on, just like that scene in Jurassic Park. I have to admit that I was now scared shitless! More fearful than I’ve ever been in my life. The tracker then chambered a round in his rifle and informed us that the lion was about to charge and he repeated that, no matter what, we were not to panic and run but to stand our ground. My heart was thumping in my chest cavity and I swore that I could actually hear it. ‘Here he comes, don’t move’ were the words that filtered through to my consciousness as this huge beast came charging towards the three of us with just one man and a rifle between us and oblivion! You f*****g better not miss was the only thing that I could think of as I tried to capture this life changing event as it happened in real time. The lion ore at us at full throttle and then abruptly stopped about 20 yards away from us and just stood there looking at us, studying us.
We maintained that position for about one minute and then our tracker instructed us to start walking backwards slowly, away from the lion until we were well out of sight which took about another minute or two. We were pumped with adrenaline needless to say, adding credence to the classic fight or flight syndrome which has been well documented and as we made our way slowly back to the relative safety of the jeep (still mindful of the fact that there was potentially another lion out there whose whereabouts were unknown to us), we asked our tracker to explain what had just happened? He explained that we had in effect threatened the lion by moving into his space and he had charged at us to defend that space and when we didn’t react, it caused the lion to stop as we were not behaving typically as prey do and so we might be dangerous ourselves and also predators. In retrospect and with the benefit of being able to rationalize the episode at one remove, I’ve since come to the conclusion that the whole thing was probably staged to some degree since getting your guests eaten by the wildlife probably isn’t conducive to a successful business plan. Notwithstanding that fact, it still remains by a country mile, the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had and one definitely not to be recommended for the faint of heart!
I did review my video footage afterwards but sadly, my shaky hand hadn’t captured much but you can get a pretty good idea of what I experienced that day by clicking on this link!