We have 3 camp helpers working with us; a cook, a recently qualified lawyer from England having a few months of doing something different before he starts his career in earnest, and a bushman tracker. It seemed a good idea to send the lawyer and the bushman off to watch the lions* while we got some rest and prepared for a long night filming. We hoped that the lawyer’s grasp of logic combined with the bushman’s knowledge of animal tracks and behaviour would secure us the group of lions for the night shift. Unfortunately, neither of them had any mechanical knowledge – and the car promptly ‘broke down’ 5 minutes from camp. Someone had turned the petrol tap the wrong way.
* it is common to use trackers (or spotters) to find and then keep tabs on particular animals, by staying with the same family of lions we get to know them and their individual characteristics and habits.
When we found the tracking team later that day, they didn’t have the lionessses we'd seen yesterday, but instead a stunning big male – which while being a good find for the average tourist wasn’t what we were looking for. We wanted our 2 females and cubs.
As darkness fell, it looked as if the male was looking for someone – we hoped it was our family. We followed him through short grass and scrub as he roared, sniffed and trotted. He must have had a scent of something. For us to drive in these conditions, the driver of the car needs to be wearing night vision goggles, which can view the infra red light coming from the filtered car headlights. We can’t use visible light at all except moonlight and starlight.
A difficult trundling hour later, us having almost lost the male lion in the darkness, he found lionesses and cubs for us. One of the cubs ran up and greeted the male, but the females looked less than pleased to see him.
Eventually, they all did a group roar, one of the females finally acknowledged him – and the male walked off into the darkness.
As this was quite a bright night, with a two thirds moon, we were able to clearly see what was happening with the starlight camera, where the prey animals were - and that they looked as though they could use a meal.