Day 12: Cats All Day

Sept 15--We heard the lions early this morning as we awoke. They were nearby. As we discovered, very near by. After breakfast, we drove across the stream behind camp and there they were, right across the river from us. Two very nice males, three huge females. They were skittish, though, so we approached cautiously and one vehicle at a time. 

What usually happens on lion sightings is that you wait. And wait. And wait. Lions don't do much between the times when they do a lot. Normally, safari-goers think of lions as sluggish, as the only time they see them are when they're sleeping. Sometimes you'll see them doing the slow walk that they do when they're on patrol. But nothing about the way you usually see a lion suggests that they are remotely fast at anything. 

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As I noted, today's lions seemed very skittish. Our suspicion is that one of the females has a cub tucked away somewhere not too far away and is back hunting with the group while lactating (we could see that she was lactating). But that skittishness showed our workshop participants just how fast lions are. Which is wicked fast. They are perhaps the fastest accelerating animal out there. 

So how did that happen? 

Well, after lunch we came back to the lions and were shooting them doing mostly nothing again. Andrew, one of our driver/guides, was up on the roof of our vehicle, but sitting, a common profile the lions are used to. But a radio call from one of our other vehicles on the sighting asking about where the fifth lion was prompted Andrew to stand up a bit and point. Instant lion chaos as they bolted upon seeing something unusual out of the top of the vehicle. Had anyone pressed their shutter release as soon as they saw any motion--and I don't think anyone did--they probably would have still only gotten half of the bolt. I estimate that the lions hit the bush line 30 yards away in a bit more than a second. We were less than 30 yards from them when they bolted. You do the math. 

We've been doing afternoon safari walks with subsets of the group each day here at Kwai. We do it in small groups both so that we don't spook things, but also because with two guides this means a high degree of eyes on ground. Yesterday's walk provoked something that happens rarely: Adam chambered a shell in his gun. Apparently, they smelled carcass in a bush at one point during the walk, gave it wide berth, but when they came round the same bush on the upwind side later in the walk, they heard a loud and insistent "bark" from the bush. Lion giving the "I'm going to fight you if you come closer" call. Fortunately, it turned out to just be one of those pants spoiling moments. Today's walk was much more uneventful, though we did have some nice elephant to commune with. 

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Our night drive tonight was entitled Thom the Cat Spotter. In the tracker position with the light, I almost immediately found a very cooperative serval cat. 

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She posed long enough for three of our vehicles to get good sightings on her. My next spotting was our three female lions on the move. I caught them in the brush from the side before they emerged out to the road, after which we followed them slowly until they reached the river crossing. Two of the cats stopped to drink, and all three eventually crossed, which was good, because the rest of our vehicles were on the other side where they could pick them up while we went a bit upstream and made a night water crossing. 

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These lions are about as people averse as I've seen, so we didn't track them long lest we further irritate them. But it was fun seeing how far they'd managed to move in a short period of time and seeing them start the night's hunt. Perhaps tomorrow we'll see the results. Perhaps not, as we don't have much time tomorrow morning before we have to make the long drive through Savute to Chobe.


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