When you've been in tent camps in Africa as much as I have over the years, you grow accustomed to the morning rhythm. Water has to be heated for your wash bins, the fire has to be started, the morning meal prep starts, and on a move day like today you can usually hear some things being broken down and packed up. This morning, however, the sounds weren't quite right.
Okay, it was almost time for me to get up anyway, so I unzipped my back tent door and headed into the privacy area behind it for my morning constitutional. It was about the time that I was peeing and looking over the privacy flap that I heard Adam yell "Everyone stay in their tents!" and saw two female lionesses so close that all they had to do was leap. There were also three males on the other side of my tent, but I didn't know that yet. (Calm down mom, I'm not in any real danger.)
Obviously, I wasn't in my tent. So what do you do? Simple: don't panic, don't run, don't move. Even the small bit of cloth between me and the lionesses was highly likely to keep them from further approaching, and I could clearly see they weren't looking at me and were focused on moving forward, which would immediately take them out of camp, as mine was the last tent.
Predators and other dangerous animals such as Elephant and Hippo are relatively common walking through or around camp. We're squatting in their home, after all. Many animals are curious about the new sights and sounds that suddenly pop up in their territory, others just want to get from point A to point B and find that there's something in between that wasn't there before. Based upon behavior, I'd put our wake-up lions in the latter category. The females looked to be heading, slowly, towards the road that curved around in back of my tent and away from camp to the short-cut to the marsh; many animals take to the roads for travel because it's simply easier than walking through forest. Obviously, we put camp next to a road so we can get to the wilds directly, too.
So how does one deal with lions in camp? It's somewhat rare for that to happen when people are up and about as some of the crew were this morning. If it happens during the middle of the night, you just let them walk through. If it happens during the parts of the day when we're off shooting, we'll usually hear from the camp manager about it over the radio and he'll protect the rest of his crew by putting them into the trucks or tents, and then chase them out. But we had people waking up and starting into their morning rituals, so Adam took approach #2: he got into his Land Cruiser and chased them out of camp with that. That's actually how I figured out there were more lions, because his first parry with the vehicle was not at the lions I was looking at, but between my tent and Lambert's. Oh, yeah. More lions.
The lions got the message and quickly scrambled down the road. With the lions in retreat, the camp came alive with the more normal morning sounds.
Judging from the tracks, the five lions had passed Tony's tent on the other side of camp just as they had mine, but Tony had been unaware of them until we told him what was going on. Richard was also out of his tent, like me, but he was much further from the lions than I. But there really wasn't much danger here unless someone was out of their tent and then panicked by running. Humans don't smell like prey, and lions are savvy enough to avoid doing things that antagonize humans. So I just stood still and enjoyed my wake-up lions while Adam chased them off.
Animals in camp are one of the reasons why we have dedicated bath areas with privacy flaps behind each tent: we don't want people wandering around in the dark by themselves in the middle of the night. From the time the crew first rouses in the morning—and one of the things they do is look around to see if there are animals about—to the time the crew shuts down the fire after all the guests are off in their tents, there's little danger, and plenty of savvy folk around to instruct you on what to do and help divert anything that needs diverting. It's the middle of the night that's dangerous, and one reason why we tell people to stay in their tents until the crew comes by for the wake up call.
With the morning commotion out of the way, It's move time again, with today's goal of seeing a few remaining things we've kept in our back pocket for the morning, then a longish but mostly pleasant drive up to Chobe, our last tent camp for this trip. The road to the last village along the river has now been fully paved, so we really only have the dusty road out of Savute itself to navigate. Still, that's a good almost two hours of the usual sandy passage. We don't make such trips without a big payoff at the other end, though.
Every time we make the big camp move, a few other interesting things happen. The tent over the mess area disappears overnight, for instance:
By the end of breakfast, huge piles of gear start to appear, brought to central loading areas by our camp staff:
But first, we have some Savute cleanup to do. While you haven't seen them yet in this blog, Savute is known for more than its channel: it's also one of the few areas of rock uprisings in the delta, and where there are rocks, there are other interesting things to see.
Like a new antelope:
Believe it or not, this little guy just lives only in the territory defined by the small set of rocks in this area.
Or like rock paintings:
A closer look:
This is usually the point where Uncle Adam winds up his storytelling machine and paints his own picture of the way things happened in this area. It's a long story. Fortunately Adam's a good story teller and I never tire of hearing it. Here's Adam resting, post story:
I've included this shot for a reason. All that flat area out there beyond the rocks is what we've been driving in for the last few days. You can see the Savute Channel itself down between the trees, and that's about as big as it gets: any more water and it's spilling over its banks and creating a larger marsh in this huge flat area. Most of us would call the Savute Channel a creek. By comparison, at it's peak the channel is about as much water as is moving through the Little Lehigh River in my back yard (note the "Little" in the name ;~). Unfortunately, the channel isn't at its peak for more than a few weeks; sometimes it's just dry.
You might get the idea that we're stalling for time. We are, in a way. We want to make sure that the camp trucks are ahead of us before we hit the main road, so we're taking our time exploring some of the parts of the Savute area we haven't seen yet. As it turns out, the wild dogs we saw earlier are, too:
Want to know what it looks like to photograph wild dogs? Well, here are Richard, Mark, and Daryl at work:
In this case they've all gone up top because most of the time the dogs were on their sides (or back in the one instance shown above) and there's a lot of low scrub around. Note the downed tree in my shot. There's actually another dog behind it, but I can't see it from my low angle.
Meanwhile, we still have folk shooting our friend the roller:
This shot might actually have been taken while we were sitting watching the dogs. I know I've got a few bird shots from that period, too.
What we're waiting for is for the big Man to go by and get ahead of us:
Once the camp is in front of us, we'll start moseying on up the road after them, stopping for opportunistic shooting and a leisurely lunch up near the Chobe River.
Since we had such an eventful morning, I think I'm going to shut down the blog today for lunch, but I can't help but throw one more only-in-Africa moment of the day in:
Sure enough, if you walk up a few yards, you'll see a trail of Elephant biscuits leading down to the water on the left and up into the trees on the right. Apparently the elephants read the road signs, too. If you don't know what an elephant biscuit is, Lambert was photographing them this afternoon:
I'll catch up on the late afternoon in Chobe tomorrow, as I'm going to split the rest of today and tomorrow morning into our drives around Chobe. That way I can deal with the Chobe River cruise in a separate blog entry. Warning: our last couple of days are going to fly by with lots happening. I hope ;~).