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Encounters of the Bush Kind

It had been a long, sweaty, and rather humid day in the Botswana wilderness. A sunrise wake-up, two lengthy game drives, many cold beers and great company had resulted in a day of unrivalled happiness.

Having seen the greatest array of wildlife our city minds could ever have imagined, our jovial group of friends was content.

An unlikely bunch of young adults, from across the world, had been brought together under the vast African night sky.  Sitting around the fire, stuffed full of roast chicken, crispy pork chops and buttery rolls, we laughed and sang together, forging friendships that would last for years to come.

Slightly louder and more energetic than usual, partially due to one too many St Louis local beers, we didn’t realise our camaraderie was so noisy until Angie, the mom of the camp, gave a big SHUSH!

We hushed quickly, silent and alert in seconds. We may have been young, but we knew our place in the bush.

“The lions are coming.”

My heart plummeted instantly.

Suddenly, the feast we’d enjoyed mere moments ago felt like a monstrous pile of bricks in the pit of my stomach. It was one thing to see a pride of lions while out on a game drive, actively searching for them from the safety of our vehicle. But catching us unaware on this calm and starry evening was another story entirely. A chill rolled down my spine. The roles had been reversed and nature was now giving a subtle show of the power it will always hold.

We gathered swiftly by the big dinner table, meters from a water source full of dozing hippos. No one made a sound. Adrenalin coursed through my body, speeding up my heart rate tenfold. The others whispered that all was fine and that we were going to be safe, but my body wasn’t listening. I was terrified, yet at the same time, I had never felt so excited. Crouching behind another ranger, I waited in nervous anticipation for the pride to appear.

The night was silent aside from the heavy breathing of those around. We shone torches into the distance, trying to pick up any sign of the approaching animals.

For a while, we saw nothing and began to wonder if we had made an error. Despite my blatant fear, I was surprised to find myself disappointed that perhaps, they were not coming. My heart rate settled slightly, and I stood up from behind the ranger.

Until suddenly, a female appeared. I couldn’t contain my gasp as I took in this incredible sight. There were excited murmurs amongst our crowd, as we were struck by the sheer power and beauty of this animal.

Slowly, the lioness idles toward us, one foot lazily in front of the other. She looks straight at our group, never breaking eye-contact, knowing full well who had the power in this encounter. Her lean body swayed from side to side as she trudged by. My stomach churned in fear, but my mind remained sharp and clear. I realised how present I was in that moment – every other problem in my life suddenly meant nothing. I was here, she was here and we were in this moment together.

Her pride appeared moments later, and we spent the next few minutes admiring the proximity of this experience.

We had seen many wild animals before, but this was a personal encounter that no game drive could ever match. We had nowhere to run if the pride became angry or violent, yet there was a mutual respect in the air that told us we were safe. This mighty group of animals seemed at peace with our presence; they could almost tell that we respected them and their homeland completely.

My hands were still shaking after they had moved past us, but the smile on my face showed my true emotions. How many young adults can say that they came within mere meters of such incredible creatures, in a completely peaceful and passive interaction. This was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, and the surreal emotions and beauty of that moment is something we will never forget.

I often think back to the feelings I had in those few moments.

That appreciation for the present, the love of nature and utter awe of the African wildlife is an incredible reminder to keep things in perspective. Now, when I am faced with anxieties and pressure of the modern world, I try to think back to the lioness and her pride. That moment prompts me to appreciate the beauty of the world, remain present in my life and remember my place on this vast and exquisite planet.