It had been a long, long day; driving 200 kms plus though mainly deep sand takes its toll. Being alone and unsure exactly where you will spend your next night is both exciting and foreboding - I was tired !
I had two more nights in the Central Kalahari at Phokoje camp site and I wanted to visit the nearby Piper Pans. Phokoje camp is about one hour drive from Piper. My plan was to get to the camp site, pitch, and drive back to Piper for the sunset.
I arrived about 4:30. The access road to the camp site was extremely narrow, overgrown and very rocky. I spotted the old wooden post, half - drooping signboard with faded letters indicating a barely visible track to the left. I could see the site marked by a clump of trees about 2 kms up an incline. The track levelled off as I entered the sandy camp site: they were all lying down and it took me a few seconds before my sensors connected with my vision, then it dawned. I was met with this...
Two mature females and two young ones, i guessed about 2 years old. My sudden presence obviously rattled the young ones, but the matriarch’s, who were in the grass under the trees never even lifted their heads. I couldn't move them, I tried driving at them slowly, honking, revving the engine. The most reaction I got was that the two young ones attempted some play (see Raison d’être – Part One), but it was half-hearted and they soon settled down again.
What now? I decided to drive to Piper and catch the sunset hoping they would move on before I returned. When I arrived at Piper I discovered several huge pans, I spent a couple of hours trying to orientate myself so I could make use of the limited time I had he following day. At about 7:30 the sun had almost gone so I set-off back to the site.
My camp site at Phokoje - 20 minutes before my encounter !
I didn’t relish the prospect of the night in my vehicle, I drove into the camp site headlights blazing - no Lions. I drove cautiously around the trees several times, switched off the lights and engine and listened. After about 15 minuets I gingerly got out, head-torch blazing I scanned the site on foot, nothing. Back in the vehicle for another 10 minuets - silence. I decided I was OK. The tent went up and I had a fire going in no time. I was running out of food so sardines, rye biscuits and dried fruit washed down with three fingers of Scotch was to be my quick supper. I flopped into my canvass chair exhausted, with the plate on my knees, the fire warming my relaxing body as the cold of the night took hold... Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr, followed by a short, very loud roar/bark...
I was up like a shot... food on the fire—I had this thought in my head from somewhere that food in the tent was not a good idea. I grabbed the bottle of Scotch and dived in through the open flap. I zipped up the door then the moon-roof just in time. Four grunting snuffling farting 400 pound pussy-cats came back home to bed – I presumed it was the same four from earlier.
Who said Lions are afraid of fire?
After padding around my camp looking for food (me) my camp table was duly overturned and a container of utensils went flying, my nerves were screaming! All the other food was inside the vehicle; I maintain a strict routine keeping as little as possible outside when in remote areas like this.
I could see their silhouettes passing between the fire and flimsy wall of my tent, it didn’t take them long to settle down. One parked on my right between the vehicle and the tent. I am not quite sure, but I think it was one of the adults, as it went down its body nudged the tent pole, the whole flimsy piece of cotton shook then the ground trembled as 400 pounds hit the sand. It’s very difficult to describe my feelings, I was extremely nervous but strangely enough I knew I was safe. I had heard of similar accounts and I figured as long as I kept calm, quite and didn’t poke anything outside I would be OK.
The smell was overpowering, I don’t know exactly where the others were, definitely close by. My bed mate – whose rump I could have prodded as she rolled over making a bulge in the side of my tent wall – stank, and snored and grunted.
I tipped my stretcher on its side against the tent wall and slowly edged into my sleeping bag, moving as far as I could away from my new girlfriend. It was time to un-screw the bottle of Scotch. I had not eaten so the alcohol hit damn quick; hell I thought it might deaden the pain, well just a little.
At some stage I dozed off, well I wasn't asleep as such. I don’t know for how long or what time it was (I never carry a watch) but was instantly awake as a huge deep roar hit the tent. My bedmate was up on her feet in a flash growling from deep, deep inside. Any fear quickly dissipated, as she leaped away from my tent and as another roar split the night I realised it was not from my camp mates but from close by in the bush. The fire was now just a glow through the tent wall so I couldn’t see much action but I could sense them moving away to my left away from the roar.
I am no Lion expert but I reckoned the roaring was a male coming looking for a mate; subsequent investigation would support this. Apparently lone males will stalk females to mate and in the process kill any young in order to end the other male’s legacy. If this were the case here then this randy guy would have his work cutout with two females. The sound of the roaring slowly receded as the creatures moved away from my camp further into the bush and soon the night went quite.
I eventually went to sleep even though an investigation and a snack was very tempting, I stayed put in the tent. Dawn was breaking as I unzipped the moon-roof, as far as I could see the camp site was clear, however I waited for more light then slowly unzipped the rear door and peered out – they had long gone.
I packed up camp not wanting to risk another encounter and decided to find another place even though I had no booking for the two sites located at Piper. When I arrived both sites were free so I pitched hoping no one would turn up later - I was rewarded with solitude for my last night.
Here are some of the images I shot at Piper Pan