Thief in the Night

It was in Botswana, on a night safari when I saw it.

Many properties offer night safaris if they are not located in National Parks.  This was one of them.  On this particular night, we’d all had dinner and it was about 9 pm.  One of the guides asked how many wanted to go on a night safari.  This was among my first real night safaris.  The ones where you are coming back to camp after dark, don’t really count.  This was a two hour or more night safari, and I was excited to be able to participate.  There were about five of us.  I quickly gathered my things together and off we went.

Safari Kay TrotmanWhen you’re on a night safari, the guides use a flood light, with an infra red screen over it, so as not to blind the animals.  There is a tracker or spotter and a driver, and the tracker is usually sitting on a seat at the very front of the vehicle (where I am seated in this photo).

The Eyes Have It

The spotter shines the light from side to side and all you can see are eyes.  He knows by the color and the position of the eyes, just what animal you are looking at.  It’s amazing the differences one sees just by looking at the eyes.

LionsAnd suddenly when you’re looking at eyes in the distance, an elephant walks out of the bushes and starts to feed – quietly.  You’ve been sitting, and there was nothing, no sound, no footsteps that alerted you to this elephant.  Although this wasn’t a dangerous situation, a night drive can create more moments of anxiousness.  To suddenly see an elephant just next to your vehicle, was both exciting and heart-stopping.  He is much larger than you, and much larger than our vehicle.  The truth is though, elephants usually give warnings when they are stressed or sense danger.  He did not feel threatened by our presence, and we remained calm and QUIET.

What’s that sound? What’s that running?

Suddenly, we hear a lot of commotion; and we are not able to pinpoint what’s ahead of us, and whether the noise is coming from what we see or elsewhere.  We stop and wait for a moment.  Then the motor goes off, and the lights go off.  We sit there, trying to assess the situation.  The driver and spotter are trying to assess where the noise is coming from, so the next decision must the ‘right’ decision so we don’t drive right into something, that can be dangerous.  At first, the sounds we heard were hyena.  We knew that by the sound of their ‘laughter’.  But there was something more, we just weren’t able to tell what was going on.

The driver restarted and drove into the direction of the noise. We suddenly spot a huge male lion running in front of us.   No one expected it, and it was difficult to fiddle with your camera at night, to adjust for the lighting.  It is pitch black out there, no lights in the vehicle, no lights, other than the infra red light to highlight the animal.  So, you do what you can, with your torch (flashlight) trying to work the buttons and explore your settings.  Yet, you also want to watch the action.

LionAs the lion was running, we tried to follow it to see why it was running.  Typically, males don’t hunt, that’s left to the females, so we didn’t really think it was hunting.  We thought perhaps, something was chasing it, but we couldn’t tell.  We drove a bit farther and suddenly we see a  huge cape buffalo running in front of the lion.  We know that buffalo and lions hate each other, each will fight to their death, or try at least!  The lion is closing in.  We know we heard the hyena, but their sounds seemed to disappear in the background, as this new scene was unfolding before us. It’s so dark, it’s hard to keep the light on the action, as we’re trying to see if there are others encroaching on the scene, but we only see the lion and the buffalo.

Exhausted and cautious

The buffalo seems cornered, still no camera to record this, as the male lion jumps on the back of the buffalo.  The buffalo must be old, because it did not take long to subdue it and get it to the ground.  Within minutes, the struggle is over, and the male lion lies next to its kill – proudly.  We watch his deep breathing, he is completely out of breath, the buffalo lies beside him.  He hears something, suddenly gets up and seems to look around, there is nothing there, nothing visible at least.  So he moves a few feet away from the buffalo, and it gives me a chance to set my camera and snap a photo of the lion as he’s lying down huffing and puffing and trying to catch his breath, before he begins to feed on his most skilled kill.

As he is trying to catch his breath, comes a noise from the bushes.  Our guide shines the light and we see eyes – eyes of a hyena.  He is alone. It will be difficult for one hyena to try to take this kill from the lion.  But the one hyena tries.  He creeps closer and closer to the kill on the ground.  The lion moves in to try to scare him away.  As he does that, two more hyena come from the bushes.

An easy meal for the hyena

HyenaThe lion, still out of breath from the chase and the take down, can do nothing.  Even I feel badly for him.  Between the chase and the take down for one lion and a huge cape buffalo, it surely took its toll on him.  They hyena can see that, so they move in and take over the kill.  Whenever the lion tries to muscle his way in, he is met by the vicious growls of now, about eight hyena.  He has no choice but to walk away from his kill or be mauled by eight angry (and hungry) hyena.  Yes, we do feel badly, but not much can be done.  These are the laws of nature.

The lion must now go hungry until either he can safely find another kill or wait until the female lionesses of his pride makes a kill.  Male lions are always the first in the hierarchy to eat, so even if the female makes the kill the male will eat first, and no other lion dares to eat until he is finished.  In this case, however, we don’t know if this male lion has left the pride and is on his own or there are others in his pride.  If he is alone, it will be left up to him to find his own meal, and that could spell trouble for this lion.  He may have looked healthy, but we don’t know how long he’s been looking for a meal, nor do we know if he is on his own or not.  Whatever the case is for this lion, tonight, he has lost the battle, he will go hungry until luck is on his side again. So goes it in Africa.

If you’re anxious to see Africa for yourself, join me in March 2016 and help me celebrate my seven years in business.  Affordably priced, this safari is timed at the height of the migration.  Or perhaps the November 2015 safari is more to your liking.  Both of these safaris will operate in Tanzania.  Are you a teacher?  Only have the summer off?  July 2016 is in the planning stages.  Stay Tuned. Contact me for details, • 951-898-6094 •

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