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Africa Geographic Travel

Ever dreamed of spending a year in the African bush? That’s exactly what Londoner Philip Dumas did when he packed in the city drone for the thrill of the Botswanan wilds. Here he recounts an unnerving lion encounter while on an EcoTraining course geared at building up your wildlife wits and becoming a professional field guide.

EcoTraining wilderness camp, Mashatu, Botswana, Thursday 12 January 2012, is a day that will be etched upon my memory forever. I ran out of toothpaste.

Not life changing in itself, I agree, but it was the first in a series of interesting events that day which included having lasagne for supper (my favourite) and being charged by a lion.

Perhaps I should say a bit more about the lion thing. At approximately 06:00am that morning, a small group of us under the expert guidance of Chantelle chanced upon some large and very fresh lion tracks close to the Motloutse River just north of the east-west ridge.

Chantelle is the other half of the Brian/Chantelle combo that are the instructors at the EcoTraining camp in Mashatu. She has a black belt in Taekwando and has had more lion encounters than I’ve had parking tickets, no mean achievement since I live in central London!

Brian is a quiet and unassuming man who likes to take pictures of wild flowers. He’s also Taekwando black belt and holds a diploma in conservation management. Out here they are definitely the team you’d want on your side in a crisis.

Back to the lion…

Chantelle was lead, Graham at backup and Kelly, Kyle and I made up the rear.

We were all excited to see the tracks and walking through the fever berry croton thicket, we heard the unmistakable heavy breathing of a sleeping lion. We immediately went into silent mode. Emerging from the thicket at the foot of a gentle barren slope, we spotted a large thorn bush directly ahead of us at the top of the hill.

A large male lion woke from his slumber and appeared to the left of the bush. Irritated at having been disturbed, he emitted a bloodcurdling growl and began to snarl menacingly.

Chantelle shouted “Lion! Stand still!” and chambered a round into her .458 rifle. “Get behind me. Hey! Hey! Hey!” She ushered us to the back of her.

She shouted, the lion growled, she shouted, the lion growled. Trading insults with an angry lion at less than 20 metres requires some nerve, but as intended, the lion was distracted by a continuing stream of colourful language.

We did exactly what we were told. My heart was pounding in my mouth and my breakfast was pressing against my trousers.

The lion mock charged Chantelle, stopping only 10 metres from her before going back up the hill and charging again. The most unnerving thing to contend with is that you can’t differentiate from a real charge until the actual mock bit, by which time the lion is only a few metres away from you. But Chantelle held her nerve and I was comforted by the fact that if her rifle jammed, she could probably kick it to death. A gruesome last resort if worst came to worst.

We all reversed back into the thicket and only when we felt we’d gone far enough did we stop for breath and turn around. The lion had fortunately left us alone but the encounter was by far the biggest adrenalin rush of my life.

Back to the toothpaste – that night I reached into my wash bag and proceeded to squeeze shaving foam onto my brush…it could be worse, I reminded myself”

EcoTraining was established in 1993 and offers year long guiding courses in Botswana, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya and many more destinations. Find out more at: http://www.ecotraining.co.za

Africa Geographic Travel
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I’m Holly - born and raised in the rural British Counties, my mother began life on a sugar farm in Zululand. After reading Anthropology at university in London, working for a political activist filmmaker in India, and doing a short stint under the bright lights of Bollywood – I decided it was time to return to the motherland. To earn a crust in the name of wanderlust, I finished up a post grad in media and hotfooted around South Africa as a freelance travel journalist.