On a hilltop in eastern South Africa, the J. Paul Getty family home commands a stunning view of Phinda Private Game Reserve. Although occupied only occasionally, Ranger Amy assures me the Getty family loves this area.
Downhill from the house, and on the opposite side of an almost invisible wire fence, six lions are zonked out in a shallow depression. Then, three Toyota Land Cruisers show up, loaded with tourists on their late afternoon safari.
“Mom, they’re here again,” says one of the four subadult lions.
“Yes, son. I smelled them a while ago. Be quiet and pretend you’re still asleep. They’ll get bored and go away.”
A few minutes later, another subadult says, “They aren’t going away, Mom. And that one is pointing things at me.”
“Oh, shoot, pardon the pun. They’re photographers. They won’t go away until they get their shots. We could be stuck here all night unless we do something. All right, a couple of you yawn for them.”
“I’m hungry, Mom. Can I eat one of them?”
“Heavens, no! That would break all the park rules. Besides, they’re tough and taste like rubber.”
The other adult lioness says, “It’s time for another hunting lesson. We’re going to have to do something to get rid of these tourists.”
“I suppose. Okay, let’s go over to the tree and do some lion things. Then spread out into the bushes. Maybe we can lose them. It’ll be dark soon and we can get on with business. We’ll meet up where we got that last wildebeest and try for another.”
“Mmmmm, wildebeest. I can taste it now. Let’s run.”
“Son, have you listened to one word I’ve said.”
“Just kidding, Mom. ‘If you spend all your energy running now, you won’t have any left to catch your dinner.’ See, I was listening.”
One by one the lions rise, stretch, yawn, and walk over to a nearby tree. They do lion things, like scratching and stretching.
Slowly, they melt into the bushes.
Across the valley, a herd of impala watches us. Once they determine we are too far away to be a threat, they turn their attention to the real threat—six lions walking in their direction.
The lions ignore the impala. Apparently, they have a larger meal on their minds.
Darkness comes quickly. Soon, Amy is driving with headlights on, dodging bushes, trees, and boulders. She is trying to stay ahead of the lions so we can shoot with them coming towards us.
It’s now pitch black, but Telusi seems to know exactly where the big cats are at every moment. He places a red filter on the spotlights so the light won't hurt the lion's night vision.
The words are in my head and I don’t know if I say them out loud.
Someone does, though, and soon Marg is suggesting to Amy that we not follow the lions any more. “It’s too dark for decent photos. They’re going to hunt. Let’s not interfere.”
And we return to Zuka Lodge.
|One of many nightjars we saw by spotlight at Phinda. A medium-sized bird, the nightjar rests in open areas at night and watches above it for moths and other insects.|