If you're attacked by a lion
Find fresh underpants to try on
Lay on the ground quite still
Pretend you are very ill
Keep like that day after day
Perhaps the lion will go away
Why am I writing a post about lions?
After all, I live and work in a lion-free environment.
In fact, I went to a lot of trouble to find a study site that didn't harbour big and bitey beasts (lions and elephants) so I could walk with the mongooses, fear-free.
So why am I now concerning myself with these massive, great carnivores?
Yesterday, when I arrived at Bugbears' favourite termite mound, I didn't find the usual merry gathering of giraffes. I was a bit surprised, but then I saw why they'd disappeared. Trailing past Bugbears' termite mound were the tracks of two large lions. Now, I'm no great tracker. I tend to waste hours poring over smudgy paw marks, vainly hunting for the forensic subtleties that separate hyena from dog, leopard from cheetah. But when it comes to an adult lion, there's no mistake. Spread your hand as wide as it will go, and you still won't span the pug mark of a lion.
These two males are enjoying a holiday from the nearby Greater Kruger Park. Much to my chagrin, lions tend to wander through here once or twice a year. Generally, once they'v left the park, they don't have much of a shelf-life; sooner or later they chow down on a valued commodity (cow, buffalo calf, sable, roan, etc.) and get themselves shot as a result. I've never yet encountered a lion when on foot and, since Kruger's lions tend to retreat from pedestrians (unless, of course, you stumble upon their kill or cubs), I began to cross my fingers that I'd see them.
But then I met the stump-lions. Stump-lions will be familiar to anyone who's tried to spot lions when game-viewing (i.e. on safari). They're actually close relatives of stick-snakes, and they're normally quite rare around here. Not this morning. It only took a couple of encounters - my heart leaping and the gasping panic tingling through to my finger tips – before I realised I didn't really want to meet a lion on foot after all. I mean what does one do? Obviously retreat slowly, but to where? How wide is a wide berth for lion? With more than half a kilometre of bush between myself and the car, there's no 'place of safety'.
It was while I was pondering these weighty questions, that I realised my stump-lions weren't even realistic. They were more like stump-St Bernards. Thanks to our familiarity with large dogs, we all have a mental picture of big predatory mammals, and most wild carnivores (from jaguars and wolves to hyenas and cheetahs) fit the bill. But lions are outside the box. Put simply, lions are BIG. And I'm not just talking Great Dane/Irish Wolfhound big. The shoulder height of your average male lion is 1.2 metres (4 feet) which is also my shoulder height (give or take an inch). And lions weigh three times as much as I do. Oh, and did I mention their length? From nose tip to rump, males can measure 3.3 metres (11 feet) which is bigger than your average four-seater lounge.
Having scared myself silly thinking about all this, I decided to give up on Bugbears and visit Ecthelion instead. Here I found even fresher lion tracks and was treated to a rousing chorus of yowling by the local jackals (who undertake such performances when they've sniffed out a body).
I spent less time in the field yesterday than perhaps I should have.
To cap off a stressful day, I arrived home to find two sets of massive elephant prints marching down my driveway. A few of Kruger's elephants usually roll up here in the late dry season (searching out fresh greens) but they're a month early this year. Although I think it's wonderful that such animals exist, and l love seeing them mooching past the house, walking the dogs becomes an exercise in courage as we venture forth into Jurassic Park.
Photo by Arno & Louise Meintjes.
Check out the blog carnival I and the Bird (# 131) at The Flying Mullet for lots of intriguing posts about our feathered friends.