Ultimate Africa: To Walk with Lions – a photographic safari in Botswana and Zimbabwe // Day 11: Antelope Park

Wednesday 06 August 2008

 

The alarm went off at 5:50 this morning and it was so COLD in our tent! Heiko got up and put the fan heater on and got back into bed for a snooze. We had literally been out of bed for about two minutes when the electricity went off and we were left in complete darkness. Heiko remembered he’d seen some matches so he fumbled about trying to find them and then lit the two candles so we got dressed by candlelight. We met the rest of the group for tea and coffee and found out that everyone else had no electricity either!

At 6:30 we were each given a stick and listened to a safety talk about walking with lions. We were walking Sahara and Sarah, both 8 months old and very playful. We had to watch out for the “naughty look” which is their pouncing stance, and then distract them with our stick. They also respond to “no”, so you have to point at them with the stick and in an authoritive voice say “no” and they should stop what they’re doing. We had to stay close in a group because the lions saw us as part of their pride and any stranglers would be seen as outcasts and used as pouncing practice!

After our talk we crossed the river and let the cubs out of their enclosure. It was fantastic to be so close to them. We watched them play and pounce and climb trees. And then they walked with us in the bush and around to the water. Those staying in the honeymoon suites would have had a great view of the cubs this morning! I sat down by Sarah but Heiko wasn’t quick enough with his camera to take a photo. One of the cubs walked alongside me, it was quite something special. All too soon it was time for the cubs to go back in their enclosure and then it was time for breakfast.

On our way to the dining area we met the camp’s friendly impala and two young girls were feeding it grass. It later followed them all over the place as the younger girl had some bread which obviously looked quite tastey to the impala.

After breakfast, at 9:30 it was time for our horseback safari – which proved to be quite interesting for several of us. I was riding a white horse named Prince. Heiko rode a brown horse which he thought was called Chemical. We went fairly slowly out into the game park, in single file. When Prince started trotting I began to wish I’d left my big camera behind, I’m sure I have a bruised hip now from it banging against my side!

Being on horseback the animals don’t see you as a human so we were able to get fairly close to impala, wildebeest, red hartebeest, waterbuck and very close to the zebra, much closer than we ever got by vehicle. When we returned to the stables I think we all had sore bums and thighs, and Mel has decided that she will never ride a horse again! I’d quite like to learn how to ride so that I can get closer to animals on horseback. It was great!

We had some time to relax before lunch and Heiko and I headed down to the waters edge to photograph the birdlife – I sat down on a bench to admire the view, until Heiko came over and commented about all the bird poo. I said I hoped there was nothing wet but when I stood up I was covered in dusty white powder – oh no! So Heiko helped me to wipe it off, we must have looked a right sight to anyone watching.

We saw some others from our group by the dining tent so we walked over to them and the friendly impala came over to me for a chin rub!

After lunch Chris gave a short talk on exposure, exposure compensation and metering. Chris was just explaining exposure using water glasses when three elephants turned up. Since we weren’t quite ready for our elephant ride they were taken down to the river for a drink and Chris continued with his explanations.

Heiko and I took an elephant ride together on Tumba, she was 20 years old and has been at Antelope Park for about 9 years. Her trainer was Tawonda. He first came to work at Antelope Park as a grounds-man (a gardener) but for the last two years he has been an elephant trainer. The elephants (three female, and one male) are trained every morning. They respond to voice commands and they kick a ball and sit down. When they behave and do as they are asked, they are rewarded with treats.

I was able to feed Tumba a treat of maize corn into her trunk, it was all wet at the ends, perhaps from elephant snot! We only went on a short ride with the elephants because Ernie was very uncomfortable and couldn’t stay on the elephant very long.

There were only a few people to go on the second time so Jean and I went on the elephants again. I rode on the back of Tumba again and this time it was just me and her trainer. Peter took photos of us with his Polaroid camera and he gave a photo to me and a photo to Tawonda. This time we rode further, and in the distance we could see the male elephant. Jean dropped her hat and the elephant that she was riding picked it up for her with her trunk and passed it to her.

When we arrived back we gave the elephants treats again. One of the other elephants gave me a branch as a present so I rewarded her with corn treats. Tumba kept digging at the nicely mowed lawn and pulling up the grass with her trunk – naughty naughty!

I quickly went back to our tent to pick up my camera and then we were straight in the bus and on our way to visit Somabhula Primary School were we met some of the teachers and had a tour of the school. Unfortunately, we were a bit late (our 15-20 minute drive actually took us about an hour!) So all the children were gone when we arrived. They left early today because tomorrow is the last day of term.

There are 274 children at the school, many are from the local towns and farm areas but 74 children come from further afield such as Victoria Falls, and Bulawayo. These children stay in dorms at the school. On the ground floor of the dormitory we saw the boys rooms and upstairs was the girls room. There are quite a lot of girls so many beds were squeezed into a small space. There were two girls (sisters) that were still staying in the dorms. The youngest was Pamela and unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of her big sister. I took a photo of them both and showed them on the screen of my camera, and then of course everyone else took photos of them too.

Our next visit was to the headmasters office where we also met some of the teachers. And then we went to visit the classrooms for grades 1, 5 and 7. The teacher of grade 5 asked me to spell my name and she wrote it on the blackboard, and then she wrote her name too – Marylin. Later, when we were walking back over towards the bus she called my name and she had a piece of paper with her name and the schools address because she would like to write to me. Just before we left we handed the teachers some gifts for the children that the group had brought and tomorrow they will share them out amongst the children. A few people are going back to the school tomorrow morning to see the children and I would like to have gone back too but I don’t want to miss the lion walk and playtime with the cubs.

It took us only half an hour to return to Antelope Park and shortly after it was time for our early dinner. We ate at 18:30 tonight so that we could go on a “ night encounter” with the lions. We first had a safety briefing and then climbed into the open jeeps. This time we were squished together with three people to a row, if the lions happened to hunt we’d need to hold on tight as the vehicle would try to follow the action.

We first drove up to the lion enclosure to let out two of the male lions, Landela and Lok. They are brothers from the same litter and are two years old. They were separated for a while because one of them went to the lion project at Victoria Falls but they have now been back together for quite a while and are in stage two of the programme. Lok was the bigger of the two, but only slightly, and his mane, though still small, was also bigger. They followed us most of the time, walking slowly behind our truck. I was sat next to one of their trainers, who had been working with the lions for the last 11 years, and now and then he would shine his torch on the lions and shout for them to come. We had two hungry lions following us and watching them run towards our vehicle in the light of the torch was excellent. And even by the light of the moon we could just about make out their shapes following us. It was exciting.

Unfortunately, we didn’t come across any game for them to hunt and after what seemed like a drive through the majority of the park the lions were returned to their enclosure. Our jeep then quickened up the pace on the way back down to the lodges and what did we see on the way?! A herd of wildebeest! And where were the lions?! tsk tsk! We also saw the shadow of an owl sat on one of the signposts. We went straight for a hot drink of tea and coffee when we arrived back, and Mel came over to us carrying a broken filter – her camera had fallen off the table and the lens hit the floor, luckily she had a protective filter on the lens and luckily it was the filter that had smashed, not the lens. She eventually confessed that the reason it had fallen off the table was because attached to the camera was the cord to her flashgun and her flashgun was in her pocket, so when she moved away from the table the cord pulled the camera – oops! I got the giggles because Mel admitted she was trying to keep the real reason for the filter breaking quiet – she made me laugh, it was the way Mel had said it! The camera couldn’t have just mysteriously fallen off the table so she couldn’t have kept the truth quiet for long. Mel then went on to drop the filter again (luckily only the filter this time) so now there was no glass left in it at all. She said she would offer the filter to Chris – I said it would be a good daylight filter – and that got me giggling all over again …it was time for bed after that. We’re getting up at 5:30 again for a morning walk with the lions!

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