The law of the roar
The sun is beginning to set in the Botswana sky. A male lion, king of the pride is resting in the grass as soft winds gently blow the surrounding straw-coloured reeds and the tuft of his glorious mane.
Head raised but completely relaxed, he sees us and acknowledges our presence, seemingly content that we are merely here to view his magnificence from a respectful distance.
Just steps away, five cubs play and four lionesses sit idly by, keeping watch.
Two mothers lie either side of one cub. The mother’s thick, pink tongue licks the little cub’s fur as he rolls innocently from front to back. It’s rare to see the male lion in residence with his pride – he is normally surveying the lands and protecting his territory.
Silent, we stay still and motionless, present for no longer than two or three minutes.
After our encounter, we all glance at each other: three Canadians from Alberta, two Australians and our guide from Botswana. We are lost for words.
On our drive back through the Chobe National Park, pinks and lavender streaks splash across the twilight sky. Stark trees form a silhouette as marabou storks expertly balance on harsh branches, preparing to sleep standing upright for the night.
Elephants are making their way up-hill, heading into the deep bush after drinking and playing in the Chobe river. A trio of giraffes cross our path on the road in front of us.
As an African, late-afternoon breeze brushes against my face, I feel the cool wetness of tears roll down my cheeks and splash onto my hands.
“Are you alright?” our guide Cavin asks the group.
“Yes, more than alright,” the Canadians respond with vigour.
I am too choked up to say anything, lost in a moment of awe, gratitude, wonder and humility at witnessing these resplendent creatures, in the wild completely free and unthreatened in their natural habitat.
Like so many, I’ve heard and read about lions since I was a child. The ‘kings of the jungle’, full of fury, might and brute strength; the ultimate predators with the paws and cunning capable of ripping its prey apart in seconds.
It’s one thing to see lions at a zoo, in photos, movies or documentaries. Indeed, the whole day I’ve been humming ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King as we traverse the dirt tracks of the national park.
Now, as we drive back before the park closes at 7pm, I am overcome with emotion. Seeing not only this pride of lions but earlier in the day, witnessing another female and male mating during breeding season, I am feeling the full force of nature.
I had been warned – Africa gets under your skin and a safari experience can be profoundly life-changing. The natural order here has hit me with an impact I was not expecting. Where every being in this ecological frontier – from the humble dung beetle peddling his impossible round ball of dirt; to the graceful and powerful elephants; to the male head of the pride – has a place and a purpose that matters.
I recall the many moments of animal intimacy we’ve witnessed – mother elephants splashing their babies with dirt to cool them down; a male and female giraffe mating; a female baboon grooming a male, crunching parasites from his fur with her teeth.
I think about our planet and what we must do to protect it. I think about the shameful history of hunting and feel utter bewilderment how anyone could kill any of these wild and beautiful creatures for trophies or money.
In the wild, we’ve seen the simplicity and a proven formula that has ensured the existence and survival of animal species for thousands of years. They eat, sleep, play, rest, hunt, protect, mate and breed – and so it goes.
At our lodge, Sanctuary Chobe Chilwero, I meet Mike from a respected African company that trains safari guides. He has some fascinating stories after more than 15 years as a specialist in his field.
I ask him, what are the most dangerous animals here. Without missing a beat, he says, “humans – they are the most dangerous predators of all."
It’s sinking in to me that he may well be right.
Just like our moment with the lions, when we respect their space and understand their needs above any of our own ego-driven desires, the world seems like one of total harmony and unison.
For once, the guidebooks are right. There is no other adventure like a safari. Sometimes, it takes three flights, nearly 30 hours in an aeroplane, and totally foreign surrounds to remind you of some of the most basic universal truths that beat deep within us but we forget when drowned out by the noise of a modern, consumer-driven life.
Observing animals in the wild without causing them any harm will change your perspective of the world and indeed of yourself. You will never be the same again – but hopefully the animals will be – and long may the lion reign the animal kingdom.
*I travelled on a freelance assignment with luxury tour operators Abercrombie & Kent.