In this case, there are three lions. Sub-adults. One female, two male. And they liked the patch of short grass right outside my chalet. I was truly convinced they would one day be waiting for me on my balcony, drinks in hand, ready to play a game of cards. Or they’d eat me. I’d obviously prefer the former.
I used to work at a private game reserve in KawZulu Natal, South Africa, as a priority species monitor. What that means is I followed animals around and recorded their behavior. In some cases, we had to pull them out of snares (bad days) and in others we got to see moments like wild dog puppies on their first day out of the den (good day). It was a world of ups and downs. Nature, red in tooth and claw, has no mercy, and yet has all the compassion the world can offer. I challenge you to watch a herd of elephants when one of their group has gone down, sick, injured or whatever else may have dropped it, and not see the incredible sense of community, love and devotion these creatures possess. Same for a pack of wild dogs traveling with an injured animal. One will stay behind to make sure the lagging one stays with the pack and is never alone. Attributing human behavior to animals is rampant out here, and not simply because I want to make them all cute and cuddly. It happens because these animals behave with more than just a sense of intuition and instinct. They have codes of conduct that they follow. They have family bonds. They get angry and happy. If it wasn’t so fascinating, I might say it was eerie, especially when it comes to watching the primates.
On a normal day, I’d roll out of bed before dawn to the sound of a horrible alarm clock that might actually start giving me nightmares, suit up in my dull colored “uniform” of browns, beiges and greens (and sometimes, when I was feeling very adventurous, dark blues), put in my contacts, brush my teeth, and walk out into the coming dawn, still half asleep in some ways and yet overly alert to the presence of deadly animals. Showering in the morning isn’t an option when you rise at 4am. Plus, considering I would spend the better part of the day sweating in the hot sun, and didn’t often have hot water, it’s sort of a useless exercise until I got back for the afternoon break when the cold water would be refreshing as opposed to heart attack-inducing.
I would amble over to the kitchen for toast, peanut butter and jelly, then walk to the requisite Land Cruiser and hop onboard. Off we’d go, into the wild blue yonder. Some mornings we’d see wildlife right off the bat. One day, in fact, we had a journey (or kaleidoscope, depending on who you ask) of giraffe (and yes, a group of giraffe is actually called one of these two things; I’m not making this up) all around us as we headed out of camp, giant totem poles slowly drifting through the morning fog. Then there were days when we’d drive for hours on end and see not much more than a few birds. Once we were joined by a baby praying mantis who took up residency on my leg, and was then delicately moved to the dashboard to give it a better view and to avoid me from inadvertently squishing it. I’m including a picture of him, because, as insects go, he was awfully cute. And he (or she – I don’t know) is probably the only insect in this country that hasn’t bitten me. So points for the mantid. Now I work in an entirely different part of the country. Still in the bush, but not monitoring animals anymore, per se. Now I monitor students who study at the camp I run, which, on any given day, can be the same thing. I’m starting to think the students are more difficult to work with…
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