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My heart nearly bounced out of my chest once…

Saturday, 31 August 2013

At 7 PM Lance comes back from his drive. The guests have a drink at the bar and before we tell them dinner is ready, Steve comes in telling us to quickly get in the Landrover: a leopard has been chased up a tree by some lions! I run to get my camera and jump up on the trackers seat, the best seat in the house! Lance drives like crazy, bouncing me almost off the seat. Holding my camera plus the spotlight it takes skill to stay seated. The wind is still very nice and warm, it’s a beautiful night and the sky is filled with stars. After about 10 mins. we turn onto the main road and see a car with torches in the distance. We race towards it thinking it must be the leopard, but at the last minute we realize it’s a different safari car, who don’t know about the leopard, as they aren’t allowed to go to that specific area. Seconds before coming to an abrupt stop we spot 3 very large lionesses on the side of the road. Being on the trackers seat makes the whole experience even more exciting. For those who don’t know, this seat is at the front of the car, on the bonnet, your feet dangling in front of it. There’s no doors or anything to protect you, in other words there is nothing between me and the lions, except for about 3 meters. My breathing is fast and my heart is racing. One of them stares me right in the eyes and I try not to move fast, while slowly turning my gaze. This is sooo cool and scary!! There are more lions around us, we can hear them roar, but not see them in the darkness. We know the leopard is nearby and quickly pass the other vehicle. This makes the lions get up and that’s when you realize they’re much, much bigger than when you see them on TV for example. Turning off road we see spotlights shining onto a tree in the distance. The leopard is very near! After another 50 meters or so, driving around the corner we see the amazing and frightened animal high up in a tree.

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There are 2 other vehicles parked under the tree. One of the guides witnessed it all: how one lioness chased the leopard away from their kill, high up into the tree. While the leopard is at least 15 meters up, she got to at least 5 meters, eventually jumping back down. The leopard knows it’s in trouble and doesn’t move an inch. It seems frozen solid, literally hanging on for dear life. One wrong move and the lions will be back to finish him off. We sit and watch for a while, eventually leaving it alone as it’s very stressed. Somehow I end up in the prime spot, it’s face positioned between the branches, giving me the best possible spot to photograph it from.

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Just before we are about to leave, one of the other guides radioes in that the York Pride, including its 9 lion cubs are very close to us. We quickly move on and once again I am face to face with a very large lioness, just a few meters away from my feet, staring straight at me. This night has been one of the most exciting moments in my entire life. A few times I nearly have to remind myself to breath as I keep holding my breath in excitement. The 9 cubs are the sweetest little things and keep demanding mums attention. They still drink milk, but are slowly being weened off and do join in when a kill has been made.

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It takes all of us a while to realize what this lioness has in her mouth, but as she comes closer we realize it’s a sock.

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As the pride moves on, so do we. Dinner had been ready for a while and it is getting pretty late, so, time to head back. Only now do I realize how cold it has gotten all of a sudden and how sore my hand is from holding on so tight to my seat. This night has been one I will never ever forget and a great way to finish our first 6 weeks in the bush. It’s been one heck of a time, with lots of learning, testing and ups and downs. We’re off to Joburg for 2 weeks, to catch up on some sleep and movies. Very excited 🙂

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