30 December 2013

24. - 30 Dec.: Alarms and mating lions at the Kruger National Park


I wake up just five minutes before 5:30, which is when my alarm was set to go off. I hear this happens to a lot of people. I am always amazed at how our body clocks can know when to wake up so as to save its owner the trauma of an alarm. Ever since I adopted my smart phone to perform this thankless function, I set the ringtone to a gentle Buddhist bells chime, so as to minimiza the pain. Still, when it goes off, it makes for the worst moment of the day. I suppose our body knows that it is not good to start the day at its most unpleasant, so it tries to avoid it by preempting the alarm. Well, one could argue it might actually be a good thing, as things would only improve after that.

But waking up to an alarm is always a traumatic experience, bound to cast a negative shadow on the waking hours to follow. On the other hand, waking up just a few minutes early provides the immense pleasure of waiting in bed, yawning and stretching, aware there is still time before one has to get up. And I derive a sense of accomplishment in killing the alarm before it has a chance to go off at all. I hate the big snooze button, it is cruel torture, I much prefer the smaller "dismiss" option. So I am profoundly grateful to mother nature for having made us evolve over the last few million years to anticipate our own alarms. I can't explain how, also because we evolved over countless thousand generations while even the most ancient alarms are only a few decades old.

Two game drives today: the first starting just after sunrise at 6 am and the second ending at sunset, at 6.30pm. With a one hour break for lunch. It's going to be a full day. We set off to a good start with a very full breakfast: sweet, savory, hot, cold, juices, you name it, it's there. Great, we'll need the energy to face rain and wind in our open vehicles.

It's not the best safari day of my life really. At least until we start driving back toward the camp. Then it becomes the single most exciting one, ever!

We are driving along a straight road, a bit sad and despirited as the weather has not given us a break and our sightings have been rather few and far between. OK well it'a part of the game, these are wild animals after all and Kruger is not a zoo, not even one of those super-managed parks where "wild" animale are more or less programmed to appear at artificial water holes.

It could be worse: today an English couple did have a close sighting with an elephant, but one which they wish they never met. They were on a self-drive tour just a few kilometers from us and met a single bull with a limited sense of humor. As they approached, it turned around and flapped its ears a few times. Elephant flap their ears when they are not happy with you being in their way, and it is usually not a good idea to try and argue with them. The Brits decided to stick around a bit longer and the next thing they saw was an elephant tusk piercing through their wind shield, while the trunk flipped the small car over as if it was a pancake.

I am a bit disconsolate and I try to protect my cameras from the sharp bullets of rain that are flying across our seats, pushed by the wind. Then all of a sudden Henry, our driver/guide today, a towering but boyish Xhosa in his early thirties, slams on the breaks and points to the right: a male lion on the grass, only a few meters away from the road. OK not a bad way to end the day, I think. But then Valentina sees a lioness, almost completely hidden in a bush. Ah ha! They are obviously a couple, says Henry, and turns off the engine. The other 4x4 with our travel mates arrives after a few minutes and stops just behind us. We wait. When lions mate, they do it many times every day, so we have a good chance.

Fifteen minutes or so go by and nothing happens. It's getting dark, we have perhaps another hour of sunlight. The other car decides it's not worth waiting longer and moves on. We stay put. Another ten minutes pass and the lion gets up. Now Henry is visibly excited and warns us to be quiet: they are likely going to mate.

And sure they do: the male jumps on the female who got up and is walking around. He gently pushes her to the ground with his big paws and mounts her from behind. The actual penetration is quick, maybe fifteen seconds in all. No prelims, really. But then again they will have done it twenty times of more by night fall, so it's not bad. During the intercourse the female is crouching on the grass, and look straight into my camera, as if to say: "What, you have never seen a lion mating?" No, I have not, in fact!

Ngoni fagapagati!



Can't believe the lions keep going at it in front of everyone. Actually, come to think of it, all animals seem to be perfectly happy to do it in front of any other animal, except for humans. I'll have to do some research and find out why.

"Ngoni fagapagati!, Ngoni fagapagati!! Hahahaaaaaa" Henry can't hold back his enthusiasm as he explains in xhosa. "Ngoni" means lion and fagapagati is the F word which Henry translates by hitting repeatedly and violently his clenched left fist with the palm of his right hand...

The evening is a happy time. At first we don't tell anything to the others who left early, but when the time comes for everyone to show the day's pictures there are a few screams at the sight of the big cats embracing in amorous activity!

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