We’re sitting on the raised deck of Nyathi’s Zulu beehive-inspired units in Addo Elephant National Park, gazing across a valley to immensely green wooded hills. We are speechless. We’ve been here a few times before and only ever seen a lone, grizzled old buffalo in the river belt. Nyathi, after all, means “buffalo” in the Zulu tongue. But right now, late afternoon, a herd of at least 40 buffalo is strung out along the valley, catching some shade from the stumpy sweet thorn acacia bushes not too far from the waterhole overlooked by Nyathi’s units.
There is also, at the edge of the valley, a keeled-over zebra … but no takers just yet, other than a circling covey of crows and a curious sniffing black-backed jackal. Our resident warden tells us that the zebra was seen earlier, trembling and shaking before it collapsed; he thinks it might have been a snake bite.
Fast forward to morning … lapping at the waterhole are three lion, a great hairy-maned male and two females. And, yes, they’ve discovered the zebra which now, clearly, has been ripped open and fully gorged on. There really is no logical reason to move any further than the three short steps to our front deck (and pool).
And so ensues an amazing lesson on a Day in the Life of a Lion. Admittedly, they do what cats do best. They sleep. Particularly with full bellies. But the day is particularly hot so there is a constant game of musical chairs: finding a shadier spot, a cooler breeze, or nudging companionably with one or other of the trio. A female rolls onto her back, four legs in the air, for an hour. They sit upright and pant like dogs to cool themselves. They pad to the waterhole to slake a thirst, or thread through the thicket to have another go at the zebra carcass.
Just before leaving Nyathi, serendipity and synchronicity perform a single merger of marvellous proportions. Beside the road lies the balance of the lion pride, a pair of brothers with manes big and hairy as the dwarf Gloin in The Hobbit.
Our windows fully wound down, one is lying not 20 m away. In one swift move he goes from prostrate to seated to standing, and with blazing eyes to rival the fire of Prometheus he strides towards my door. Images flash through my brain of dumb tourists who’ve had lions jump through the window of their car and been mauled by claws the size of meat hooks. My heart is pounding so hard in my ears I don’t hear Hirsh start the engine to press the window button. By the time the glass has slowly wound up, the male is on one side of the glass, I’m on the other, eye to eye. I’ve stopped breathing. Then, just as suddenly, the male sinks down beside the Land Rover and yawns.
It’s just another exciting day in Africa.
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