THE QUIET LION
After almost 2 hours of flying north from Johannesburg we found the landing strip near Botswana. Our pilot, Piet zoomed down the runway to make sure there were no wild animals in the way and then circled around to make a perfect landing At the end of the runway was a Land Rover waiting for us and another that was a truck for our luggage.
We were soon organized in our new home, which was a lovely little stucco building that contained a bathroom and spacious bedroom. The door was beautifully hand-carved with a lion. During our stay we learned that the buildings were not the only special part of the stay.
The property is owned by Marie and Hans, two of the most caring people I’ve ever met. We didn’t feel like guests, we felt like family, because we were treated with warmth and joy. Gordon Stark, of Nhoro Safaris, was our amazing PH and he made sure we had everything we needed. After we were fed and rested, Yvan, their wonderful son, took us on an evening game drive where we saw giraffes, black wildebeests, zebras, all sorts of antelope and many more animals. No lions were in sight, but that was okay, we had a great time. As the sun began to set we parked in a high place and Yvan opened a cooler that was in the back. It was full of beer and sodas. This was the first of the daily “Sundowner” evening rituals. We sat, having our drink of choice, and watched a breathtaking sunset and appreciating the world around us. It was a daily opportunity to be very thankful for all we had.
The next morning we were up before dawn for a good breakfast before exploring and hunting lion. This was in no way a fenced area. We were not far from the Limpopo River and Botswana and the property was huge. The animals come and the animals go at their own will. They hooked two chairs onto the front of the Land Rover and two local trackers, Chris and Corbus, sat on each chair so that they could study the ground and look for lion track. After an hour or two some paw prints were spotted and all the men jumped out of the truck to study the ground. They were able to get a good idea of where the lion was headed and decided to circle around to see if they could find more track so that they could figure out where it was going. We set off and it wasn't 15 minutes later that one of the fellows in the front of the truck gave the notification that he had seen a lion. Actually, all he saw was a small tuff of hair sticking above the tall grass. The rest of us couldn’t see a thing, but a tracker’s eyes are exceptionally sharp. We got out of the truck and Dave was ready with his gun. We had no idea of the size of the lion or which way he was facing, which was a problem. The grass was high and Dave couldn't see the lion well enough to take a good shot. He could just see a small bit of the mane. We all carefully moved to what we hoped would be a better location - closer and at a different angle. Dave looked through the scope and there was nothing to see. We still had no idea what Dave was up against. We moved to a third location and the locals started throwing sticks in the air in an effort to make noise and disturb the lion. We guessed by the sound that some might be hitting him. Was he young? Old? Which direction was he facing? I watched over Dave’s shoulder and only saw the tall grass. No movement. A vulture was spotted in a tree not far away. He was watching and was no doubt the only one who knew the whole situation. It was then assumed the lion had killed something, had a good meal, and was lazing in the sun with a full belly. He did NOT want to be disturbed. We moved to yet another location and the lion was now very close, maybe too close. We sure weren't going to get any closer. It was so quiet, except for occasional sounds from us. Looking in the direction of the lion, it seemed he might be alive only in our imagination. I felt every animal for miles around was waiting to see what would happen. There wasn't a breath of air. The trackers started throwing sticks again. Nothing. No movement. An explosion of motion suddenly erupted from the tall grass directly in front of us. As though he had formed from the dust in the air, a large lion materialized and was leaping towards us at incredible speed. A large jump and then another. As he reached the apex of his second jump we could see his teeth and feel his anger. Dave shot. The bullet entered the lion’s forehead only a fraction from the center line and above the brow, going through the brain and out the back of the skull. Gordon shot the lion in the chest immediately afterwards. The force of the bullets was such that it stopped the momentum of the lion and he dropped to the ground about 12 feet in front of us. The world was suddenly very quiet again. Not a breath. It happened so fast that it didn’t seem real. How did the lion spring so quickly? How was Dave able to make such an outstanding shot at a fast-moving target? How did Gordon make an excellent backup shot in the fraction of a second after Dave’s shot? Only the sight of a lion laying on the ground just steps in front of us made it real. With a breath of relief, the congratulations and celebration started. Within minutes the trackers had cleared the area and were rolling the lion on his stomach for pictures. What a magnificent animal! Estimated at 6 years old, he was handsome and muscular with a beautiful coat and mane. I was suddenly sad at his loss. I knew the feeling would pass, but I now felt respect and appreciation for this wild and free being and realized that it’s an honor to share the world with such animals. We weren’t allowed to bring anything home to the USA due to U. S. Fish & Game laws, so the owner of the land kept the skin, teeth and claws, while a very poor native village was delighted to receive the meat. We’ll always have our wonderful memories and our pictures.