Thursday, 19 January 2012

Tales of Wild Africa

One of the great attractions of coming out to Cape Town for an MEI Conference is not just the quality of the technical programmes, but the opportunity that it gives delegates to explore the southern part of this enormous and fascinating continent.

Apart from the wonderful scenery, viewing the unique wildlife is on most agendas and there are many exciting venues in which to do this, including the huge National Parks, such as Kruger. There are also many smaller and less known game reserves, such as the excellent Aquila, only a day’s excursion from Cape Town.

Of the “big five” most people aim to see elephant and lion and a first time glimpse of these magnificent beasts in the wild is a truly awesome experience. Sometimes you may be lucky to get up close, as we were during our trip to the conference in Phalaborwa last July.

But it can be good not to get too close, as I was discussing with Joe Felix of CiDRA, during last year’s Flotation ’11 in Cape Town. Respecting the wildlife and obeying the Park rules is essential, and Joe sent me these amazing pictures of a tourist’s encounter with a rather large elephant in, he thinks, Pilansberg game reserve, located not far from Johannesburg. The elephants at Pilansberg are notorious for attacking and killing rhinos.

Joe also sent this photo, taken by his daughter whilst in a trip to the Lion Park just outside Johannesburg. Apparently a high pitch scream was heard as the driver and passenger wrestled with the lioness, which had jumped up to an open window. The driver tried moving by revving the car, which was in neutral, before finally putting it in gear and managing to move away from the scene. The car was seen heading off in a hurry ...

Pretty scary stuff, and a reminder to keep doors and window closed, but can anyone beat this story of Amanda’s encounter with lions in the Serengeti in Tanzania 10 years ago:

In 2001 I went on a budget safari trip in Tanzania, taking in the Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater.

On the first night in the Serengeti, the small group that I was travelling with sat around a small fire, drinking beer and getting to know each other. Eventually, it was time to call it a night and we headed into our respective tents. As the only single person on the trip, I headed off alone, thinking how lucky it was that I didn't have to share with a stranger.

Amanda and friends in Tanzania
Mustapha is in the centre
That thought didn't last long. As we abandoned the glowing embers of our fire, in moved the lions, presumably to take advantage of its warmth. It was mating season, and the only thought that got me through the long night ahead was that our guide, Mustapha, had told us that lions do not eat during the mating period.

All night we were treated to the sounds of two lions mating just outside our tents. Whilst the act itself appeared to be short and sweet, there were many repeat performances, and at the end of each the lion let out a mighty roar which resonated through my whole body, not unlike the feeling you get if you stand next to a massive speaker at a rock concert.

This was bad enough, especially as I really needed to get rid of some of that beer, but then the happy couple decided they needed a rest.... and flopped down against the side of my tent... the side my bed was on! I swear, that lion was no more than half a foot from me, so close that I could hear him breathing. Something I wasn't doing!

It was the longest night of my life. I was too afraid to move, as my sleeping bag rustled loudly with every small twitch, and I spent the night planning my defence. This mainly consisted of spraying deodorant in his eyes and whacking him with my hair brush. Ha!

Finally, finally, the sun came up and I tentatively unzipped my tent and poked my head out. The rest of my group were huddled on the far side of the campsite, frantically waving at me to join them. I ran across, and Mustapha pointed back across to my tent, where, just behind it, we could clearly see the lioness resting in the shade of some trees. He wasn't worried though and cheerfully repeated his assertion that we were safe because they were only interested in mating.

One of the group asked Mustapha, “but if anything had of happened, you'd have shot the lion yes?”, to which he replied, “oh no, no, no, no, no. I do not have a gun, it is not allowed in the National Park”.   What?!?

If anyone can beat that story, or if you have other interesting encounters with wildlife, please let us know.

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