At our &Beyond properties many of the guides are trained at what is called Level Two Walking. This means they are authorized to take guests on walks to see Rhino, Bull Elephants or Buffalo herds. This is an amazing opportunity to see these great animals from a different perspective. It is both exhilarating and humbling, if that is possible!
We were on a game drive at Phinda Private Game Reserve when our guide stopped and pointed out fresh rhino tracks. He turned to us and explained that we could go on foot to try see them if we were keen. Well of course we were and all jumped at the opportunity.
When the vehicle was safely parked off the track, we waited with baited breath to be told what to do next. Everyone’s excitement and anticipation was clearly visible on their faces. After a safety briefing we started out with our intrepid guide following the rhino tracks. After about fifteen minutes, he signaled for us to stop and pointed towards two magnificent rhinos up ahead. Being at ground level instead of sighting these pre-historic pachyderms from the safety of a high vehicle is rather daunting, but we soaked up the rare opportunity with pleasure.
A few minutes later he noticed that the wind was changing and that our scent would be picked up by the animals, so in order not to disturb them he silently signaled that we would need to move around and approach them from a different angle.
We all started to move away slowly and followed our guide in the direction he indicated. After covering about 300 metres he gestured for us to stop, which we did, wondering why.
What happened next will be forever imprinted in my memory!
A lioness came barreling out of the bush towards us from where our guide had been looking – luckily he had heard her growl or we could have walked right into her hideaway. The lioness stopped about 30 metres in front of us and lowered herself to the ground. The growl that reached our ears left us in no doubt that we were being warned – but we didn’t know what her next move would be.
Thankfully we were in the expert care of our guide. He signaled very firmly to all stay still –needless to say the first totally irrational impulse is to run, however 30 metres is the approximate distance a lion needs to pounce on its prey – it would take this lioness just a few seconds to reach us. Not of course that this information churning in my mind was particularly encouraging at the time. We all stayed put – in a huddled group – behind our guide, frozen with fear.
We were signaled to hold the belt of the person in front and to back away slowly. The lioness didn’t growl again or come any closer but her penetrating eyes never left us and her tail flicked back and forth with clear irritation.
We back tracked to the vehicle and nimbly clambered back to our seats. Suddenly we were all talking at once – adrenaline pumping through our veins, hearts pounding and legs shaking! It had all happened so fast none of us even had the chance to think of anything but to obey instructions.
Once we had our breath back and had stopped giggling inanely from sheer terror, our guide explained that he presumed the lioness had cubs which is why she gave us a warning growl to stay away. When he asked if we would like to go and see her from the safety of the vehicle, his question was answered with a unanimous yes!
He was 100% correct, when we arrived – carefully so as not to upset her further – we found the lioness with four tiny little cubs hidden underneath the bushes. The mother was not alarmed to see us within the familiar shape of the game vehicle and we were able to spend precious moments watching her with her little family.
Once again it brought to mind just how important it was to be in the care of a responsible, well trained guide who understands wild animals and treats them with respect. The bush is no place to be without someone with the essential talents of their chosen career.
What an amazing experience, something that will forever be one of my best moments in the bush – petrifying, but an experience not many can say they have been through.
Oh yes, and the rhinos were amazing too!