Tales & images from life as me…

Archive for July, 2012

TIA Tales – story telling – lion encounters

People who have lived in Africa for some time (from the one-contract ex-pat to the 1st, 2nd or 3rd generation citizen) have a bizarre need to share their horror stories of Africa and it got me thinking.

These stories are always true (ok you could add a pinch of salt for mild exaggeration of the drama, but they’re basically true) and designed to impress with how relaxed you are about your wild and dangerous life. I’m not sure if this is true all over Africa or if it’s an East African thing, but over my years in Kenya and Tanzania I have heard literally hundreds of them. (I’ll give you some examples shortly)

I have a theory that these stories are a critical part of our existence here. You see, stories are generally about a near-death  (or at least quite terrifying) experience of our own, or of someone we know (sometimes they actually did die) and the telling of these tales brings us an odd sort of strength. It reminds us that our lives are exciting and different to what we had before – and, let’s face it, most of us moved away for the differences in one way or another – and it makes us feel just a little bit invincible, brave and experienced. It’s verbal armor!

It’s a compulsion that can prove very entertaining round a dinner table or over a beer, but it’s always all the more fun when there’s someone ‘fresh off the boat’ in your midst and they sit with wide eyes, asking questions and enthralled by the terrible drama – awful I know, but great too!

Anyway, as I mentioned I have heard so many of these stories over the years that it hard to know which to include. By including all the ones about violent break-ins, car-jackings, muggings and riots, street-justice or the police I am painting a very sad picture of this place and, whilst they do happen and are all true, they don’t fairly reflect our day-to-day lives and I can’t bring myself to spoil the place so completely for those of my readers who haven’t been here.

So that leaves me with the animal encounters. Somehow people seem more forgiving of these since they are wild animals and cannot control their instincts (I’ll leave you to consider any traces of irony in that). Of course, animal encounters aren’t part of our day-to-day lives either, but these tales do serve to illustrate my point. And, even if they don’t, they’re just great stories.

I think this post is going to have to emerge in several parts to avoid it being an enormous tome. So breaking it down further I will work by species! We have many, many dangerous animals here and we get used to seeing them (and they us) in their natural habitats so it is easy to think they are not as dangerous as we’ve been told. Perhaps I’d better start this week with the king – the lion (though it is by no means the most dangerous animal here) since we so often see them stretched out in the shade of a tree looking like giant domestic cats.

That’s what one Japanese tourist thought when he hopped out of his truck to pose beside a large male whilst his wife took a photo. He was promptly mauled and dragged into the long grasses. Only parts of him were recovered. That was some 20 years ago, but people are still quite stupid!

As for me, my lion encounters have been mostly beautiful experiences. I have watched them eat and kill, I’ve even found a two day old baby in a ditch and fed three month olds with a bottle. I’ve seen them eat, hunt, climb trees and even mate, but the only time I’ve ever personally experienced the incredible power of a lion was actually a very simple moment on safari. A young male lion had chosen to use the side of our vehicle for shade and flopped down beside a tyre. His mane was not fully formed so he looked pretty fluffy and the fact he was so close was pretty cool. I stepped up and pushed the lense of my camera as close as I could from the open roof and right at the moment he looked up, stood and widened his eyes at me. Those incredible yellow eyes and that locked-on stare are astoundingly powerful. They asses. It is terrifying. I sat down… fast!

I’ve also had the privilege of camping in the bush at night and hearing a lion roar, or produce that other deep and echoing noise which sounds as though it is rolling the roar in its throat – a low growling grunt that bounces all around you in the darkness. It is magnificent, and if you’re in tent it probably means you’re awake for the rest of the night!

I was told a fantastic lion tale just recently, though, (far more dramatic than any of my own) by a man who’s been here almost all his life. I’m sure he won’t mind a brief re-telling and will forgive any details lost in my repetition… He was escorting two women to a camp and dusk was closing in when they reached a particularly boggy area in the road, they assessed their chances and decided to give it a go. Unfortunately it was much deeper than they’d thought and the car got stuck in the middle. With dark closing in my friend decided he would have to go for help. He locked the girls in the car and began to walk. The camp was several kilometers away over the brow of a hill and as it grew fully dark he realized what a bad decision he had made. There was no light anywhere and he was walking blindly through the bush.

As he walked at a fairly steady pace he began to notice his footsteps echoing; he stopped, the sound stopped; he went fast so did the shadow sound; he slowed down, it did too. Something was tracking him.

He had no choice but to go on and he says he walked like this for a couple of hours until he finally came over the brow of the hill and saw the lights of the camp below him. He said he nearly wept with relief and was about to break into a run when a huge form burst from behind him through the long grass, close enough for him to feel it. He tells me the noise was cataclysmic, an explosion of roaring and high pitched squealing. The lion had opted for a prey it recognised, instead of him! He was suddenly aware of what a force had been within a few feet of him for quite some time and he ran the rest of the way to the camp!

One of my favourite questions when I say I live here, and especially when people discover it is close to the Serengeti, is: ‘do you ever get lions in your garden?’! I used to laugh and say that was a ridiculous question. But…

No, it is true that animals tend to stay out of the cities, it’s just that there are those rare occasions when things don’t quite work that way. There are monkeys at our school, a wild Gennet in our road and crocs in the lake, but we rarely see the really big stuff. Having said that Nairobi (Kenya) has a slightly unique set up, in that the city is built on what used to be exclusively wild animals’ territory and it still maintains a large area of National Park within the city limits, so there are wild animals present. Recently one lioness set up home outside of the boundaries of the park, right in the residential area of Karen. There were several sightings and a donkey was mauled, cats and dogs were taken and young giraffes were even taken from local wildlife attraction ‘Giraffe Manor’.

There was even a story where: ‘A lioness with two five-month old cubs wandered onto one woman’s property and was immediately confronted by a perhaps slightly too daring family Rottweiler. The ensuing brawl left the Rottweiler traumatized and one lion cub stuck 12 metres up a tree!’

But this particular story has a sad ending as the lioness was recently cornered by Kenya Wildlife Services and charged (it’s thought to protect her cubs). They did the only thing they could and shot her, the cubs have been placed in the animal orphanage for now and we hope they will be relocated. Sadly animal-wildlife conflicts are a considerable problem here and often do result in death for the animals.


Anyway, you can see a few tales of African madness here and the thrill of living in a place where you never know quite what will happen next! Next time I have to share some buffalo ones… then again I’ve got some good hippo ones… or elephants…. Hmmm. TIA baby!


Up for a photographic safari?

Hi everyone, this is not my usual post – it’s an opportunity, probably best suited to those of you living in East Africa. Authentic Tanzania Safaris is running a photographic safari with Paul Joynson-Hicks (the amazing photographer – just google him) teaching photography and Sven Liebchen (amazing safari guide) helping us to find loads of cool stuff.

It’s a package deal including flights into Ruaha, vehicle, fuel, guide, accommodation, food, booze, teaching time, park fees – the whole lot basically.

This is a really fantastic opportunity. If you think you might be interested please get in touch now, now, now as there are only two places left!

Hope you’ll be joining us!

Best wishes, Mel
ruaha flier for print