Folds in the tent crackled gently as the wind embraced the flimsy fortress, I lay motionless and listened as keenly as I had eight hours earlier, when I came to rest on a stretcher better suited to a child in need of a growth spurt. Undeterred by day light’s tardiness and cheered on by a dawn chorus we arose, within minutes we’d manned the vehicles and begun our search. There is no greater a nights rest than lying awake and listening to a lion’s roar. A burning halo crowned the horizon and saturated the velds colours, my hands trembled with anticipation as I double checked my camera settings. Would this be the day that I get to photograph a central Kalahari male lion?
Brian had keenly tuned in all night as well and the latest roar echoed from the valley, as we forged ahead toward the valley I noted Brian’s uncanny resemblance to a more focused David Feherty. Shortly after turning into the valley we switched off the cars and listened, by this point the silence was already deafening. I have spent enough time searching for various animals to know that one’s efforts are not always rewarded and thus I never lose touch with the surrounding beauty. We alighted the vehicles and waited whilst Brian wandered further up the road, “I have his tracks!” exclaimed Brian as he bounced back toward us, engines on, wheels in motion and eyes peeled. The atmosphere was electric with inevitability and moments later a roar reverberated through the plain and into our souls. He was close but out of sight, we headed further north and waited in a more open area, a five minute eternity passed by before Brian made the call to head back south, Christian and Fanny also turned around and followed closely. Brian and I sat in awe as we realised the lion had walked into an open area alongside the road.
The sun smiled upon the Kings majesty, illuminating his golden coat as he padded through the greenery. Jaws on the floor we peered through our view finders and took a few snaps before taking a second to process the sheer magnificence of this cat. Christian and Fanny situated themselves nicely for photographs whilst Brian moved our vehicle a little further ahead. “Would you like to get out the vehicle and photograph him?” asked Brian. I quietly opened my door, crept to the front of the vehicle and knelt down, as any subject would in anticipation of a King’s arrival. The black maned beauty was striding through small shrubbery about ten metres away from me, this meant that once he emerged from said shrubbery he would be less than 10 metres away from me…. “Usain Bolt would catch me from this distance, this is a lion Owen, you moron.” I muttered to myself. Brian calmly instructed me to make slow and steady movements, as the lion was about to move into the open. I made the call to zoom all the way in and fill the frame with the cat, a ballsy call as I was debating the merits of being a Darwin awards hall of famer with a great photograph over life itself, so getting the composition right was less of a priority. He broke cover and glanced toward Fanny as her camera shutter clicked, then his focus shifted to our vehicle, I hung in there and waited until he made eye contact and realised I was there. This is where things no longer went according to plan, the lions front right paw twitched, my brain informed the rest of me that I was about to die.
My recollection of the next few seconds is a little hazy so I have to go with Brian’s version of events. He remembers this lanky, splintered tooth pick of a man springing up in front of his vehicle like a jack in the box, bolting toward the other side of the vehicle, diving onto the passengers seat and closing the door. Fortunately the lion had no interest in me and continued to walk alongside the road whilst marking his territory. “What the F#ck happened to slow and steady Owen?” barked Brian. “That’s my bad, it is a black maned male lion.” I responded. Never before have I been so truly grateful and humbled by an experience, I will cling to that memory until my very last breath. Central Kalahari is simply the best.