Published on January 22nd, 20114
Random Photo Memory: Lions at Dawn
Kruger National Park in South Africa had long held the very top spot of my travel “bucket list”. Not only is it one of the world’s premier wildlife havens, but (like the solid gold “Krugerrand” coin) it was named after one of my ancestors! Yup, Paul S. Kruger, president of the Republic of South Africa (1883-1902) was my great, great, great uncle. He was also a racist and believed that the earth was flat, but hey – relatives, whatcha gonna do?
In any case, I finally got my chance to visit Kruger National Park on a six week solo backpack across South Africa and Mozambique in 2005. I spent 5 days on safari there, spending my days in an open jeep sighting all manner of wondrous wildlife, and my nights camped out listening to hyenas howl.
One morning a small group of us opted to take a pre-dawn “walk” into the bush – safely accompanied by 2 trusty guides laden with rifles. We set out in an open jeep taking it off-road and eventually stepping out into the bush on foot. After pacing just a short distance from the jeep, we suddenly heard a most frightening “rooaaar” coming from somewhere alarmingly nearby.
I glanced at my guide’s face, and his eyes showed the unmistakable sign of fear. Nonetheless, he calmly advised us all to “Uh, quickly return to the jeep, please!” Terrified, we verily flew on our feet back to the safety of the jeep!
We then drove a short way ’round the bend and there – less than 100 feet from our jeep – was an entire pride of lions, lioness’ and cubs. Fifteen lions altogether, munching on the bloody carcass of a freshly caught wildebeest
Even the guides said it was a rare “National Geographic” photo op, and needless to say we clicked rapidly away from the (relative) safety of the jeep. The guides advised us not to extend a hand or leg outside the silhouette of the jeep, as apparently the wildlife at Kruger are used to the jeeps and wouldn’t attack as long as we stayed still with all appendages inside the jeep’s frame. That theory was soon scarily tested as one of the female lions took an interest in us and slowly paced towards the jeep, coming closer, and closer until she was right up to the wheel by the jeep’s headlight. We all held our breaths as she stared us down, and finally exhaled only when she moved away and back to the tasty “McWildebeest McMuffin” fest!