Table For One (A Night With Nine Lions)

May 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve watched the Discovery Channel, flipped through National Geographic, strolled through my local Zoo, and listened to Oprah narrate Planet Earth, more times than I can count. I’m fascinated by the world and everything that resides within it. Long gone are the days of squealing at spiders, skipping my veggies, and falling asleep in history class. I have an insatiable curiosity and appetite for learning. While books, documentaries, and another’s account, are great; nothing compares to first-hand experience.

I can’t say enough about our time in the Delta. The staff at Kwara waited on us hand and foot; making sure our every need was met. Our first day was enjoyable, with fantastic views on our flight in, long game drives, and a relaxing evening spent swapping stories with fellow travelers over a lovely meal.

The next morning we arose with the sun for an early drive, followed by an afternoon in Makoros on the lagoon, gliding through Lilly’s, spotting various frogs and hippos. We had planned to spend our evening cruising up and down the Delta by boat, but opted for another game drive instead – a last-minute decision that proved to be one of our best, as everything quickly went from good to great with a single call.

 We were halfway through our drive when we stopped to take in the sunset with a quick drink. Within a few minutes, a call came over the radio from another vehicle. A pride of lions were in the area and on the move. They didn’t have to tell us twice. We tossed our drinks, jumped back inside, and drove as fast as we could.

 When we arrived on the scene, I could hardly contain myself. I was expecting two, maybe three, but there we were with a pride of nine: One lion, three lionesses, and five cubs. The females had just taken down a baby zebra and it was time to feed… at least for one. The male asserted his authority and began to feast, while the rest of the family watched and waited.

We sat there under the cover of starlight completely exposed, only a few feet away from the family affair. Minutes turned into hours, but we couldn’t turn away. It was almost as if the world stood still. We were awestruck – completely mesmerized by the display before us. Sitting in silence, my heart beating out of my chest, I could hear the tiny baby’s bones being crushed, as the flesh was stripped away. Not a drop of blood wasted or a scrap left behind.

The pride grew antsy and rightfully so. They all took turns, attempting to sneak up behind the male, only to be chased off by his intimidating snarl. Observing the females and cubs interact with each other was just as fascinating as watching the male devour his dinner. Some might think its gruesome, but only one word comes to my mind: Awesome – with a capital A. (Bleeping) awesome.

We sat there silently, attempting to take it all in, when a lioness came by to say hello. She rubbed up against our vehicle, while Rich was peaking over the edge, just a few feet away, looking him straight in the eye. Nothing gets your adrenaline pumping like having your guide whisper softly, ‘shhh…don’t move’. Luckily, for our sake, she just had an itch that needed a scratch – phew!

As it turns out, we weren’t in much danger. They see a vehicle with passengers as a single unit. If you stay seated, talk softly, and make no sudden movements, you won’t be perceived as a threat. Stand up, start hooting and hollering, and you’re likely to be mauled. Not a nice way to go. They were kind enough to calm our nerves with a story of guy who stood up in the presence of a leopard, causing the entire vehicle to be attacked. Everyone was severely injured, but made it out alive. Not a risk worth taking.

Thinking back to that night, I can remember every sight, sound, and smell, vividly. It was, is, and always will be, one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. I feel so lucky to have spent an evening up close and personal with one of the most powerful predators. It’s heartbreaking to think that poaching is such a problem for all of Africa’s wildlife, and it’s hard to say if these magical creatures will be around much longer. It’s quite possible that our children’s children won’t have the chance to do so, outside of captivity. One can hope…

After a few hours of sleep, we were up and at it again. We were lucky enough to run into the pride once more, which made for another fantastic morning. We’re not sure what we did to deserve such a treat, but we couldn’t ask for a better way to conclude our time in the Delta. It was, indeed, worth every pretty penny.

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