Just imagine, for a moment, laying in bed late at night on an open air platform in the middle of the Zimbabwean bush, while 16 lions squabble over a meal in the darkness just 50 metres away.
This is what guide Garth Thompson experienced in the Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, during a week stay with Wilderness Safaris. It was one of many remarkable, frightening, amazing and downright unbelievable experiences that he had during the week.
Garth and his wife were staying at Little Makalolo Camp, and also slept at the camp's Star Bed hide, which is an open air bedroom platform high up on stilts that looks over a small waterhole.
“A pride of 27 lions was in the area,” said Garth. “16 of the lions settled at Madison Pan, which is where we were staying, and they remained there for nine days, making kills, feeding, drinking, and generally causing a scene.
On one of the days, a herd of buffalo came down to the water to drink. The lions were waiting in the surrounding bush, and in a flurry of speed and fury, they managed to kill one of the buffalo calves.
The rest of the herd scattered into the surrounding bush, but the mother of the calf took refuge in the water. She lay there for a few hours, and then eventually had to leave the pan where the lions were waiting.
“Our bedroom for the night was on a platform right near the pan,” said Garth. “That night, we went to sleep with the lions squabbling over a buffalo carcass and woke in the morning to the sounds of them growling and eating. The hide has high sides and a door, so we felt completely safe. It was an incredible experience.”
The night was also punctuated by the sounds of elephants coming down to the water to drink—often a few hundred through the night.
The next day, a herd of elephants also came down to the pan during the heat of the day. One of the big elephant bulls got such a fright that he charged at the lions, scattering the big cats in every direction.
Aside from the lion and elephant sightings, many other animals made appearances over the course of the week, including giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and scavenging hyenas and jackals.
“All in all,” said Thompson, “we thoroughly enjoyed nine very safe and powerful nights of wildlife encounters and interactions in an amazing reserve.”
* All photos by Garth Thompson