The tracks seem to disappear and then reappear. Eyes open, ears alert to the slightest sound, and careful not to step onto a twig, we shuffle in a single file following Bernard. Every now and then, there is a sudden stop. Bernard surveys the area and the marching continues. The long grass is now disturbed. It feels warm. They were here. The pace quickens. Hearts race. The grass grows taller. The bush surrounds us. A grunt. The lions are close. They know we are on their trail. They don’t want to be seen. But we want to see them.
Tracking lions on foot in the vast wilderness of the Kruger National Park is a healthy alternative morning riser to the more sedate cup of coffee. Not that we planned to track lions that morning. When we left our tented camp in the Mutlumuvi Concession, we happened on a leopard along the road. It was one of many leopards that graced us during our stay at Rhino Camp. Part of the daily activities at the camp is a morning bush walk. Sightings aren’t guaranteed, but on this occasion, fresh lion spoor attracted Bernard (his growing up in the bush meant he had a fine skill). In the two hours chasing on the trail of lions through open grassy plains and acacia woodland, we also encountered a pair of white rhino at a waterhole. A honey badger edged its way into the dense foliage of a wild sage bush, unsure what to make of our presence. Elsewhere, impala and wildebeest skittishly dashed into the distance. And it wasn’t only the four legged kind that presented themselves. “A baboon in a hole”, mused Bernard about what a past guest called a furry baboon spider, protecting its underground cavern.
But it was the lions that eluded us. At times it felt daring to be following a pride of lions on foot. And when the grass grew taller, it became almost scary. But lions are inherently more afraid of us. And in the final moments of the chase, all we had to savour was the sight of golden coats dashing into the woodland and the growling sounds of lions, perhaps voicing their discontent at being disturbed from their morning snooze.
The adrenalin rush over, it did not matter that we did not see them in all their glory. Tracking them on foot brought us in tune with their private movements, not seen from the confines of a vehicle. When the senses are heightened, the experiences are remarkable.
(Read about the lodge and walking safari camp in my future blog post.)