Monday, May 24, 2010

The Lion, The Ditch and The Warthog

Nothing gives you a squirt of adrenalin like a close encounter with a lion. Its a visceral thing and must come from something buried deep in our DNA, something that harks back to a time before early humanity departed the great plains of East Africa - a time when ancient mankind spent his days hunting and gathering and waiting for McDonalds to open.

One morning while driving in Tanzania's Serengeti we encountered a large male lion laying in some long grass next to a drainage ditch. He regarded us with a sort of arrogant boredom, his massive head resting on his front paws, the breeze tugging at his impressive mane. He knew that we were no threat and that we weren't lunch, at least as long as we remained inside the vehicle.

We sat there watching him watching us for a few minutes and then we noticed a female warthog approaching. Now some people think they're ugly things (usually people who haven't looked in the mirror themselves lately), but I think they're very cute. I love the way they raise their spindly tails like car radio aerials and trot off when they're alarmed.

Now this particular warthog looked a little confused. From her angle of approach she couldn't yet see the lion, but she could evidently smell that something wasn't quite right because she stopped dead in her tracks and then abruptly changed direction, trotting towards some reeds which grew in the water in the drainage ditch. She was twenty-five metres from the lion when he saw her. We could see that he was interested, but wasn't convinced that he'd be able to catch her. He stood and stretched lazily and sauntered over to the reeds into which the warthog had by now disappeared.

Suddenly the warthog saw the lion and panicked (understandably). She leapt into some deeper water and started swimming. However, she made the fatal error of swimming too close to a low stone bridge that crossed the ditch. Suddenly in a terrifying display of explosive speed and power, the lion saw her break the cover of the reeds and charged onto the bridge kicking up great clouds of dust with his massive paws and emitting deep guttural grunts.

Then he simply reached down from the bridge and plucked the squealing, 40kg warthog from the water with one paw. In a second his jaws were clamped on her throat and two minutes later the warthog was dead and being dragged under the cover of a tree to be hidden from the telescopic sight of patrolling vultures.

We sat in the vehicle, a little stunned and light-headed, our hearts pounding. Watching a kill does that to you. I always find myself torn between wanting the predator to get its meal (Heaven knows its hard enough for them.) and wanting the victim to escape.

Now I must apologise. For the next three weeks there will be no new blogs. I'll be camping in Botswana. I know. It's a tough assignment, but someone has to do it. My next blog will appear on Friday 25 June. At least I should have plenty to talk about.

Meanwhile I thought I'd let you in on a little story told to me by one of the guides at Impodimo Lodge in the Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa.

Two Kruger game rangers had been given the the unenviable job of tracking down an injured lion. Before the left they were checking through their equipment.

Rifle - check.
Ammo - check.
Radio - check
Water - check.
Running shoes...............

"Running shoes?" Exclaimed the other ranger. "What do you want running shoes for? There's no way you'll be able to outrun a lion."

"I don't need to outrun the lion," grinned the first ranger. "I just need to outrun you."

Discover Northern Tanzania From $1950 per person twin share
6 Days
Nairobi to Nairobi
Lake Manyara / The Serengeti / Ngorongoro Crater
This road safari is an excellent way to discover the highlights of northern Tanzania including the incredible game viewing opportunities in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.

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Buderim Central (next to Post Office)
07 5409 1999

Woolworths Shopping Complex
07 5451 8600

Cnr Currie & Lowe Street
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Pelican Waters Shopping Village
07 5437 4000

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