“The trouble with lions,” my guide said, “is that they ain’t got no curiosity.”
“Oh?” I said.
“That’s bloody right, none at all. Now you take a leopard. A leopard is chock full of curiosity. No fear of humans at all. A leopard will sneak right into camp and steal your knickers if you ain’t on the lookout.”
“I’ll keep an eye out,” I said.
The Range Rover bounced along the narrow, rutted excuse for a road that led down to the river. The road wound through a vast expanse of chest high elephant grass that reminded me of a Kansas wheat field. The grass blocked the view of everything but the hard blue African sky, so I fixed my gaze on the guide. He was a chunky old fellow, with sweaty rings of fat along the back of his neck. His chubby face glowed red with hypertension. Not one I would ordinarily choose for this kind of assignment. But he had been out in country for a long time and knew his business. He had said that the poachers liked to ambush protected game at river crossings, and that would be a good place to set up watch. I agreed; I knew my business, too.
“Think we’ll see any lions?” I asked. I had never seen a lion in the wild.
“I’d be shocked. There’s a national park across the river that’s full of ‘em, but they won’t cross over to this side to check us out even if we bare our asses and sing the Hallelujah Chorus.”
“Too bad,” I said.
Eventually we came to the river, a wide sandy stream bed with only scattered pools of water. It was the dry season. The animals would certainly congregate here for the water—and the poachers would congregate right along with them. Yes, a very good place to set up watch and get pictures. That’s all my employers wanted at this stage: just pictures, positive proof of serial poaching in this part of Africa. Other action would come later.
Our hired men from the village scampered out of the back of the Range Rover and went to work building our machan, a kind of duck blind from which we could keep watch on the river. They constructed it in the fork of a tree, using a few timbers we had brought along and elephant grass they cut with machetes, leaving a crop circle about twenty feet in diameter. They were at it for about an hour. All the while I wondered about the lions across the river in the national park. Did the lions even know we were here? Did they care? Not even the least bit curious? I turned to my guide.
“No chance for lions, eh?”
“Not a bloomin’ chance. I’d have a heart attack if one of them lazy cats even came to the river before sunset. They don’t like the heat any more than we do.” For punctuation, he removed his hat and wiped his head and brow with a kerchief.
Well, that was that. No lions.
The workmen finished our machan, helped me position my photographic and video equipment, and left for the village in the Range Rover. I helped my fat friend into the blind, pushing him upward with my shoulder, and climbed in after him. We sat side by side and waited. We didn’t have long.
We were barely situated when two magnificent lionesses strolled out of the elephant grass, not five feet from where I had been standing a few minutes before. Like two bloodhounds, they traced the path of every one of us who had been in that crop circle, sniffing our footprints, pawing at the grass stubble we had left. Not curious? Like hell! This went on for about ten minutes. Then they sauntered over to our machan, looked up at us, and simultaneously let out two spine tingling roars that even today provide the soundtrack for my darker dreams. Their message was clear: “This is our land, not yours.” Roaring over, they turned and glided back into the grass, gradually disappearing until all I could see was the black tips of their ears.
I turned to my guide. He was completely motionless. I felt his pulse. Stone cold dead.