“I’ve just returned from my fifth consecutive walking safari in Tsavo of the 2014 season, and I still have two more to go. At this point of the summer, I’m at my fittest, and hindrances such as knee, ankle and toe aches have been reduced to mere irritations unworthy of thought.
Of far more importance to me now is an awareness that my senses have become more tuned to where I am. I am noticing things which didn’t come naturally four months ago, in early June, when our season began. This natural ‘involvement’ doesn’t only manifest itself in seeing, hearing or smelling better rather, it’s about feeling more. It’s hard to explain but I now know that an elephant or lion is behind the trees and bushes ahead of us minutes before I’ve seen, heard or smelt it.
Past clients on this walk have commented upon this feeling, that as each day unfolds they experience a heightening of the senses. I revel in it, fully in the knowledge that it’s perhaps the most basic instinct that our animal has lost since we lived in caves, hunting daily for a living.
The last walk we did was unbelievably productive. On the fourth day, our group of seven emerged from the thick brush and forests of the Tsavo River. We’d caught occasional glimpses of elephant, buffalo, and kudu, but everyone was ready to see more wildlife in closer proximity. Now the spectacular Galana river, home to the biggest elephant herds in Africa, with its palm-draped banks and wide, open sandy beaches, lay welcoming ahead.
We had a week on foot to experience Tsavo East, and it didn’t let us down. During the ensuing six days, we hiked the length of the Galana, through a veritable elephant paradise, and exciting wildlife moments just kept on coming: the enormous sleeping crocodile that we silently walked to within thirty feet of, basking on the bank with a striped hyena in its mouth; the elephant ‘retirement group’ of seven magnificent bulls crossing the river fifty feet away, oblivious to our existence; the maneless lions on the beach; the elephant family crossing the river beside us, making their way towards two families numbering upwards of thirty on the opposite shore; and finally, the lioness and her cubs…
We’d left our camp early for the final day’s hike. The previous two walks had produced little during this final day owing to unseasonal rain showers, but this time it was a blue-sky-day. It felt good.
By mid-morning, we’d had excellent sightings of elephant, warthog, lesser kudu, spotted hyena, and a massive herd of Cape buffalo on the far shore. It was beginning to warm up when our tracker, Lajori, noticed a sleeping lion in a gully close to the river about 150 yards away. The wind was in our favour, and I could see through my binoculars that she was lying facing the opposite direction towards the river. I judged that if the group could walk quietly, we might move in close enough to see her well. We made our way carefully through the saltbush and reached a point where we could all look down on her from the gully’s edge. She was about sixty feet away, we had an unrestricted view, and she was still sleeping soundly. Lying close to her was the partially eaten carcass of an oryx. There was movement beside her when suddenly the heads of two cubs appeared, sat up, and looked straight at us. One bared his teeth, emitted a cat-like hiss, and mother raised herself into a crouching position before us. The cubs disappeared round the corner of the gully behind her as she confronted us, and growling, she made for her kill.
We all watched spellbound as the air reverberated to her growls. She lay by her kill, mouth firmly clamped upon it, and it was obvious she wasn’t giving an inch. Our group backed away in the direction we’d come from, sure in the belief that it was time to leave her alone.
When we’d reached the end of our walk, we had listed eighteen different species of wildlife that day – including a perfect striped hyena, this one bounding joyfully along the beach, not the unsuspecting meal of the crocodile we’d seen earlier upriver.
Then, someone said… “well, what would you expect? This isn’t the good walk of Africa; it’s the Great Walk of Africa.”
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