Up close and personal.
In the first place, the male usually finishes his business in about 20 seconds. Unlike men, though, he’s ready to go again in a few minutes and – in a manner of speaking – can keep this up for four to five days. For anatomical reasons, sex for lionesses is quite painful and there’s plenty of spitting and snarling that happens while the dirty deed is being done.
I was with some of my colleagues on game drive in Nkomazi Private Game Reserve in Mpumalanga a few days ago when we encountered a small pride with a female in oestrus. Each time the male mounted her, they’d move closer to the open vehicle. At one “critical moment”, both animals glared in our direction with teeth bared and a voice behind me said quietly: “I’m no longer comfortable with us being so close.”
I was astounded. Frankly, if they’d wanted to do it in the back seat of our Land Cruiser, I would have been quite happy to stay exactly where I was. I quickly realised, however, how selfish I was being. If you don’t spend a lot of time in the bush, close proximity to predators and other wild animals can be extremely intimidating… especially when there are no closed vehicle windows to create the illusion of safe separation.
Our guide didn’t think twice; he started the vehicle and we were We crept – ever so slowly – into the thick bush till we were a mere 15m from the two and sat quietly. White rhino are not born shortsighted but develop myopia over the years. After about an hour, the calf spotted us and got curious, prompting Thandi to start whuffling and pawing the ground.
We turned around – even more slowly than before – and discovered a herd of buffalo right behind us. It took us a long, long time to get out of there, carefully removing each twig and leaf before creeping ahead millimetre by millimetre. To be honest, I was more exhilarated than scared out of there quicker than the average lion achieves orgasm.
The rule of thumb in the bush is that you’re safe if they come into your space (unless they’re stalking you) but that you would be foolish to invade theirs. This is great advice if you’re in a vehicle but not particularly helpful if you’re on foot because beasties of all size can be damned hard to spot in undergrowth and long grass.
The Nkomazi incident left me musing on some of the close encounters I’ve had with wild animals – and I’ve had several because I go to the bush A LOT. Only twice have I been truly frightened: once when a leopard strolled into my house in Northern Namibia after smelling my braai meat, the other
when a fully grown Cape buffalo stuck his horny face into my lap on a reserve in the Eastern Cape. Only later did I learn that the buffalo had been hand-reared and was essentially tame.
Being frightened and getting a fright are two different things. I very nearly stood on two male lions while taking pictures of a new Jeep Wrangler in a conservancy area near Hoedspruit but they rocketed off in the opposite direction almost before I became aware of their presence. Similarly, when Thandi, the famous white rhino of Kariega had her first calf (she’s a grandmother now, incidentally), I was privileged to be taken into the thickets where she’d hidden the tiny one to protect it in its first weeks of life. Thandi had been left for dead by poachers a few years before, after having both her horns hacked from her face and the reserve’s rangers wanted to determine that both were well and invited me to join them.
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