A Robin Pope Safari's ranger, George Bell, reveals what you could expect on a day's walking safari. It might be a little more 'out in the sticks' than you first imagined, not to mention the close encounters...
I awake to the distant roaring of lion and smell the mopane wood smoke of the campfire used to heat the water for morning tea and coffee. I hear the room attendant go down the line of tents calling to the guests, giving them their 05:15 wake up call and filling their wash basins with warm water heated over the camp fire.
As we sip our tea and coffee and munch our breakfast of toast and other goodies around the campfire, we watch the first rays of sunlight crack the horizon. This is where the discussions turn to the expectations for this morning’s walk. I can feel the guests excitement as they ask questions like how long will the walk be, what will we be seeing and how far away are those lion that were calling during the night, the excitement is infectious and I answer them as accurately as possible, emphasising that anything can happen out here in the bush.
When everyone is ready and I have made sure all the guests have their water bottles, hats and have applied their sun cream I introduce them to Isaiah my escort scout and Geoffrey our tea bearer. I go through the safety brief reminding the guests the role of the scout and tea bearer and what to do if and when we bump into a ‘big and hairy’.
With a nip in the early morning air and the dew on the grass that wets our boots we start our walk, Isaiah leading followed by me with six guests entail and Geoffrey bringing up the rear. Isaiah and I have decided to follow a game trail along a tributary that leads to the Luangwa River, in the direction of which the lion calls have come from. We both agree that the calls have moved closer to camp during the night and there is a good chance that there is a male patrolling his territory and still on the move. With any luck he will give one last call enabling us to triangulate his position before he decides to rest up during the heat of the day.
The birds are singing a morning chorus as they are advertising territory. I remind myself that new sights, sounds and smells are bombarding the guest’s senses, so we stop and listen to calls identifying as many of the birds as possible. I encourage them to take a deep breath and suck in the fresh, unpolluted morning air. At the same time we watch a herd of impala ahead of us in a clearing browsing on the shrubbery as the morning light plays on their reddish fawn coat. One of the more alert ewes notices us and gives an alarm call and the entire herd disappears into the mopane scrub fleeing us the potential danger.
While we are watching the impala disappear the lion give a final call, I turn and see the excitement mixed with apprehension on the guests face and after making sure every one is happy with tracking lion we head off in the direction of the call. Twenty minutes later after a brisk paced walk we pick up the tracks of a large male lion, which is heading towards a nearby salt spring. About a hundred meters later we pick up drag marks and can see where the lion has killed a large male puku and they are leading to a nearby thicket. I motion to the guests to move quietly and slowly as we approach the thicket, I hear a low whistle from behind and I turn to see Geoffrey pointing to a bush forty meters to our right and under which the male lion is watching us intently with his meal nearby. We are close enough and he is alert, I get the guests to take a quick picture or two before pulling back to a distance where he can relax and the guests and I are able to observe and discuss any questions we may have without the lion feeling like he has to abandon his meal.
After our exciting encounter we decide to head to the spring to relax and have tea in the shade while we let the adrenaline from our recent encounter seep out of our system. At the same time we are treated to a variety of plains game and birdlife that come and sates their thirst as the mid morning sun heats up the day before we return to camp for cold drink and a hearty lunch prepared in the bush kitchen.
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