Terri Rice

Name ID 2066

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Arusha Times
Extract Author: Terri Rice
Page Number: 381
Extract Date: 6 Aug 2005

Yet another private theatre-of-nature

This week I would like to share another of my favourite memories with you. This story is about the week which I spent with my husband camping out in a wooden cabin on the floor of Ngorongoro Crater. Hugo needed more sound recordings and film footage for a documentary which he was completing about lions. We settled into the cabin with our gear and set off to search for the hunters. These we soon found in the form of two lionesses, one of whom had four small cubs in her den area. Every day, just before sunrise, they would make their leisurely way down to the river, where they knew that many zebra and wildebeeste would come to drink, and hid themselves from sight in the surrounding undergrowth. They were not disturbed by our escorting them; Hugo had a great love and respect for all wild creatures and never approached them directly, always following at a discrete distance. Unfortunately, some safari drivers had no such scruples and would make a lot of noise, trying to spot the "big cats" for their tourists' cameras. Invariably one of the lionesses would raise her head to see what had shattered the peace, the about-to-drink grazing animals would depart in great haste on flying hooves, the lionesses would lose their lunch and the tourists would get their lion shots (they never seemed to realize that a little more time, silence and patience would in all probability have rewarded them with much more exciting lion-kill photos). We tried hard not to attract these drivers' attention to the river, using the ploy of parking some distance away, pointedly fixing our binocular sights on the weavers and other birds chattering and warbling up in the trees and hoping to pass for a couple of avid ornithologists with no interest at all, thank you very much, in lions and such beasties.

This scenario was enacted daily and it was sad to follow our lovely lion ladies in the evening light as they wended their way home, disappointment and hunger almost palpable on the air. Especially sad was when the mother female reached her lair with nothing for the bounding-out, hoping-for-food, cubs. However, there was a happy ending (for the lions and me at any rate - if not for the photographer!). Let me digress first to the sound recording tale.

Just before sunset one day, we drove over to a small hill where 5 lions were wont to hang out, laze about and generally do the accepted male thing of waiting to spot one of their wives making a kill. When this happened they would lumber down from their watch-tower hill and take over the "lions share". They looked well-fed as we drove near and merely blinked the odd eye at us before dropping back off to sleep. Recording equipment at the ready, we sat silently and waited. Just as the sun was setting, painting its beautiful farewell colours across the sky, one of the lions awoke, yawned, stretched and ... began to roar. One by one, the others slowly followed his example. The sound was incredible, their roars seeming to echo back from the caldera walls. For me it was awesome and hair-raising; my knees somehow seemed to turn to jelly and the hairs rose up on the nape of my neck. I was no longer in a Land Rover but in some strange time warp, taken back to the beginning of time. The feeling of oneness with nature was indescribable.

Happy with his recordings, Hugo decided to give up on the lion kill shots and head back to his beloved Serengeti. Accordingly, we awoke early on our last Crater day, stowed everything away in the appropriate boxes in the back of our vehicle; mattresses, unused food supplies, rubbish to be disposed of later and (note this) cameras, lenses, etc. Have you guessed my ending? The sun was just rising as our route took us past the river. Hugo wanted to press on but agreed to stop for me to have one last long look at what was really one of the most beautiful sunrises I had so far seen. But somebody was there before us. Some bodies were already there before us. The quiet drinking of grazing animals suddenly shattered into panic as two lean yellow bodies erupted from their hiding place, leapt on a young wildebeeste and brought him down without further ado. It was very mean of me to grin at the expression on my husband's apoplectic face as he groped blindly around for a too late, too far, too boxed-up camera.

The lionesses then did some amazing things. They both ripped into the belly of their meal, covering their faces with blood but not really eating. The mother then took off at a trot, to return some small time later proudly leading her young ones to the spot where she had brought down their dinner. The look on her face was one of almost human dismay when it was - not there! The cubs repeatedly and excitedly leapt at her bloodied face; "where is it then? Where? A sudden low growl directed them to where the other lioness had dragged the kill into and under some bushes (to hide it from the menfolk of the pride?) and all ended well as they piled in and proceeded to stuff themselves silly.

My respect for the in-charge lioness knew no bounds; her self-control in refraining from eating until the others returned was truly amazing. We left them to it, and slowly drove towards the Crater exit road, reaching it just as the tourist vehicles started slowly winding their way down the entrance path. I hugged to myself the warm feeling of being blessed again with yet another private theatre-of-nature experience and kept smiling like an idiot all the way home. Have a good week!!

Extract ID: 5082