What is it about the anticipation of sighting a lion in the wild that excites visitors to game reserves? We spent ten days in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park several years ago without coming across a lion, in spite of regularly following trails of clear pug marks along the dusty roads.
Almost every vehicle we passed in any direction halted us with the question “Lions?” on the lips of their drivers. The overseas visitors with us were also desperate to see a ‘King of the Beasts’ and, practically on the final day of our stay, had to make do with a glimpse of an ear or a shoulder – all that was visible through the thick scrub some distance from the road.
Even this tiny bit of a lion in the African scenery served to satisfy the cravings of many of the visitors, some of whom had travelled thousands of kilometres, who now craned their necks and strained their eyes while passing on excited messages about any movement sighted.
Don’t get me wrong: having kept a close watch out for lions while driving through the Mountain Zebra National Park in August, we too were pleased to come across a single paw print in the soft sand – at least this was tangible evidence of their presence in the Park.
The introduction of lions into the Addo Elephant National Park brought some of that ‘wilderness magic’ within easier reach of the thousands of local and foreign visitors who flock to this Park every year.
At first they were very elusive – one can still count oneself fortunate to see them. They appear to be more widely dispersed now though, so the chances of spotting a lion appears to be ‘fairer’ as visitors explore the different roads that wind through the Park.
Driving a high clearance vehicle helps – as does a sharp eye. We drove right past a lion once while driving our car and would have missed it altogether had not a fellow visitor, almost looking down at us from his large 4 x 4, alerted us to it.
The rising cost of fuel notwithstanding, we realised there is no point in visiting game areas without the height advantage of our 4 x 4. This was especially valuable during last year’s trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. During that visit we were fortunate enough to see lions every day throughout our two-week visit: sleeping off a meal on a sandy river bank; striding across the dry river bed in front of us; roaring fiercely next to the perimeter fence of our camp site; or bringing down a wildebeest in clouds of dust. These lions were all active and very interesting to observe.
Does one ever become sated with seeing lions? Probably not, but when we came across lions in the Addo Elephant National Park some weeks after our return, we enjoyed seeing them and moved on with the feeling we ought to let others have a turn as we had already been so privileged.
We have since come across lions in this Park and continue to enjoy their presence. They tend to become a highlight of a visit without meaning to! Possibly the most exciting view was when we saw two lions walking towards Rooidam early one morning. We followed them slowly as they changed direction ahead of us: one continued down a track and out of sight while the other headed for the dam, affording us a wonderful view of him lapping up the water before he too disappeared over the dam wall.
That the lure of the lion is strong was clearly illustrated this weekend when we sighted a lion sitting with his back to the road in the pouring rain.
It didn’t move; there wasn’t much to see of it either and yet vehicles waited in long queues, parked at various angles, jostled for space, inched forward or waited stationary for hours as their occupants feasted their eyes on and pointed their cameras towards this ‘mighty’ beast.
The heavy concentration of vehicles at that spot was evident throughout the day, suggesting that the lion had not strayed much.
Seeing lions brings smiles to the faces of tourists. This was the opinion expressed by the security guard when we left the Park at the end of the day. “Everybody is smiling today”, he observed cheerfully as he checked our day pass. “When there are lions the people are happy”. He flashed a broad smile as if that made him happy too.