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The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
Too close for comfort – a close encounter with Tsavo's Lions
Munir Virani — in East Africa Project    Share

Last week, volunteers Teeku Patel and Shiv Kapila assisted with our annual raptor surveys. We drove from Nairobi via the Kitengela plains and onward towards the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro at Amboseli National Park, and then to the rugged Tsavo West before entering the vast plains of Tsavo East National Park. The drive was spectacular and we observed 311 individual raptors comprising 30 species (we actually saw 34 species but couldn’t include the four as they were “off the transect”.

This blog is about a very special evening at Ngulia Camp in the heart of Tsavo West National Park. Having done a full day’s drive from Amboseli through the back of the Chyulu Hills and into Tsavo West National Park, we arrived at our camp at six pm when the sun was going down. The sky was a majestic display of pastel purple but overwhelmingly overshadowed by a pair of displaying Verreax’s Eagles on the Ngulia escarpment.

As we settled to heat up our food on the terrace of our cottage at Ngulia, we watched a herd of at least 300 buffalo frolic in the water hole below the escarpment. The elephants had just left and were somewhat nervous. Darkness falls fast in Africa and suddenly we herd the deep resonant roars of lions. They must have been a pride of at least seven. There was a mad panic at the waterhole as the buffalo bolted and watched from a safe distance. We managed to get a glimpse of five of the lions by the waterhole. Frogs croaked in a blistering cacophony whilst cicadas chirruped and the buffalo grunted. It was at this point that I had realized that I had forgotten my coffee press in the car. I simply cannot function without a cup of freshly brewed Kenyan coffee in the morning. I borrowed Teeku's flashlight and walked nonchalantly towards the car park somewhat wishing that I might see a lion enroute to the car. As I walked along the well-lit concrete path, I almost jumped out of my skin as I heard a deep roar – the ground below my feet vibrated. Instinctively, I turned back to look, and there about six meters behind me was the most majestic lioness I had ever seen. I say majestic because I don't think I have ever seen a lioness, so close to me, and even that in the dark and glowing under lights. I felt my heart thump and race and fortunately had the foresight to saunter hurriedly towards the car. I turned back and shone the flashlight to see that there were at least two lionesses behind me. I got in the car, opened the sunroof and phoned Teeku and Shiv who were both in the room.

"Don't worry, I am safe," I said with a grin. I could feel the adrenalin rushing through my veins as I spoke to my two colleagues. Then, as I was still chatting to them over the phone, from the corner of my eye, I saw a huge shadow pass bye along the path. It was another lion – a male. I suddenly realized that I was in my car, in the car park and surrounded by lions and that I must have been incredibly lucky not to have walked into them by a matter of a few seconds. This really was an incredible experience that I shall cherish for many years to come.

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