Tuesday, May 24, 2022

My encounter with The King of the Jungle

It’s a calm, beautiful sunny day, with a slight breeze when my partner Sonny and I set off with our guide for a game drive in the ‘jungle’ of Mombo camp.

Mombo is located on Chief’s Island in the heart of the Okavango Delta. On this day, I excitedly have only one thing on my mind: to get really close to ‘him’. I’m profoundly fascinated, mesmerised and my breath literally taken away by ‘him’.

My heart beats ridiculously faster than normal in ‘his’ presence.

An encounter with him at close range is so nerve wracking your heart literally feels like it wants to jump out of your rib cage! He is outright bloody intimidating! The game ranger, in a gentle, firm and assuring tone, continuously tells you, you are perfectly safe inside the safari rovers coupled with their impeccable and immense experience working with wildlife. You are assured of their sound experience handling ‘emergencies’ in the ‘jungle’.

Eh, emergencies? Well, a good guide doesn’t actually tell you about ‘handling emergencies’ on the very day of the game drive! A remarkable game guide like Banyatsang ‘Ban’ Shakwa of the Mombo camp, who took us right inside the ‘heart’ of a lion pride will just giggle and say absolutely nothing when probed on possible ‘drama’ in the wild.

True to guide behaviour, he brings on the reassuring remarks almost ruling out any possible ‘drama’.

Nevertheless, your heart continues to pump overdrive. You are ‘inside’ the lion pride, very close you can actually see scars and fresh wounds on some of the pride members’ bodies. Especially scars on ‘him’. He is the pride owner. He does all the fending off and defending of the pride from intruders or enemies.

Again, you hear the game guide assuring you of your safety but you don’t give a toss about his reassuring remarks! In that moment, it’s just you and ‘him’ and no one else! You are very very afraid, but thrilled and excited at the same time to be so ‘dangerously’ close! Relaxed under a tree, in his territory on a hot sunny afternoon, he is usually found resting. This preserves his energy for a possible evening hunt later.

Your heart stops for a second every time he lifts his head to look at you! It starts pumping again when he rests his head going back to his nap! ‘He’ confidently goes right back to sleep with you encroached in ‘his’ territory because your presence poses no threat to his safety what so ever! And ‘he’ absolutely knows this after sizing you out! ‘He’ will of-course keep checking you out at intervals, just in-case you pulled a ‘fast funny one’! It’s called ‘animal protective instincts’.

I got to say though dear reader, this animal instinct was not healthy for my heart! My little heart was worn out from pumping over drive. I was petrified out of my wits every time ‘Leo’ raised his head to check if I was still on my best behaviour!

The lion or Panthera leo, in scientific nomenclature belongs to the family Felidae and falls under the genus, Panthera. Our beloved country boasts of impressive populations of the ‘Leo’. Mombo camp is the perfect spot for a Safari experience for someone who loves and is ‘obsessed’ with lions like me. It ‘rains’ lions at Mombo!

You stumble across pride after pride on game drives! I harbour tremendous respect for the king of the jungle. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I can’t be! Just why is it that the lion is ‘crowned’ worldwide as the king of the jungle as opposed to other ‘mighty’ animals say an elephant or a buffalo?

Does the lion really deserve this title? Is he king of the jungle because of the way he walks unfazed, with massive stride, as if to let everyone know in clear terms who is boss? Is he king because he has no natural predator earning him the top spot in the food chain? He is built for battle with an impressive body size weighing up to a whooping 250kg! That makes him the second largest ‘big cat’ after the tiger! His incredible power perhaps has earned him the title.

The power depicted by the way he is able to effortlessly bring down a buffalo bull with a single strike from his massive paw. Is he king because of his intimidating dark massive mane around his head and neck? The colour of the mane and intensity give a clue about his age.

The young bachelors nearing adulthood, not ready to mate or take ownership of a pride will be characterized by a pale sandy brown mane. The pitch dark thick mane is the ‘honour’ of the ‘king’, fully mature and in his prime. He has a pride of his own boasting of several females. Only he will mate with all females.

Yep, that’s right gentlemen! Only his genes will be passed on, deservingly so in lion society as he would have fought ferociously sometimes to death to claim those rights and his spot on the throne.
Is it the way he roars? A lion gives the most incredible roar! There is nothing quite like it I have ever heard in my life! During one of the game drives at Mombo, I experienced a lion ‘call’ very few metres away. We came across two dark maned lions in their prime, pride owners.

In fact, when there is a coalition of two males in a pride, only one can be the true pride owner mating with all the females while the other plays a supportive role in protecting the pride.

No he doesn’t get the ‘girls’! The two males are usually ‘brothers’ who might have been kicked out by their father from his pride when they neared maturity to eliminate competition and a possible over throw by them from his throne! It sounds cruel by our standards but that’s the true order of lion society. That’s what should happen to ensure order. The two brothers will form a formidable coalition impressively tackling challenges to ensure the pride is intact. Back to the roar! One of the ‘brothers’ gave this incredible roar it evoked a lot of reactions in me. He awoke from his nap, stood up, stretched and started to walk towards us, not directly, skewed, giving this unsettling and incredible roar! Experiencing the roar at such close range is something I can’t find adequate words to describe! You feel his roar in your stomach, in your gut! You want to regurgitate from fear! He continuously ‘called’ for several minutes looking into space. His brother looked on. Our guide was all smiles knowing he had done his job brilliantly having us experience a moment like that!

His thunderous roar is amazing, it’s as if to let you know; This is his turf, his territory, his terrain, his terms. Take his terms or be taken out! This call is for ‘everyone’ who shares his oxygen (yes his!).

The rest of the animals in the bush get this message loud and clear! So do we the tourists frozen in our Safari Rovers! He concludes his powerful message with deep grunts, his head propelling forwards and backwards in a pacey manner. Gives squirts of urine…a final mark of his territory and walks on! His brother springs up to join him. My mouth is agape at this point. I’m completely mesmerized, afraid, excited and want to cry all in one hit from what I had witnessed and now brand the ultimate act of nature! No, not sex!

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