The first roar happens over dinner.
“Hear that? ” our guide asks. “Lions.”
I strain my ears to listen as the lions are at the far boundary of our mobile safari camp.
As dinner comes to a close and the siren song of sleep rings loud, the roars increase in decibels. The lions are coming closer. Our guide, Lovemore, loads his rife to walk us back to our tent. As we walk, he tells us of the two males making the sounds and the pride that they govern.
“You must sleep with your tent flaps down, please. Lionesses came to my tent, five of them. I had slept with my tent flaps up and woke to them breathing against my tent screens.
I made noises to let them know that I was there. I couldn’t move, not a bit. It would only trigger their predatory instinct.
They left but then came back a bit later with three more lionesses. The tent was now surrounded by eight of them. I knew I had to call my wife immediately. Very slowly, I picked up my cell phone. When she answered, I told her that I was surrounded, I loved her, and that I didn’t know what would happen next.
Costa then heard me talking and shouted ‘Lovemore, is everything okay’?
No man! Everything is not okay! I’m surrounded by lions.
Costa grabbed a rifle and started the safari vehicle, driving fast to my tent and chasing the lions out of camp.
So, please, it’s not safe. You must sleep with your flaps down.”
Excited about the story, I ask “How long ago did that happen, Lovemore?”
“Five days ago”, he replies.
My husband and I exchange looks of restrained terror.
By the time we finish our short walk to the tent, their presence is clear. As I prepare for nighttime, the roaring begins to rattle me to the core.
“I can’t do this. Should we be doing this? I don’t know if I can do this,” I nervously announce to my husband.
The calls reach their peak as the lions move in even closer. A cacophony of grunts, roars, and growls fill the blank space of night.
(Listen to a similar recording of lions here:)
My muscles tighten as my “fight or flight” triggers instinctually take over, although there is no fight, only flight. I have no misconceptions about my true place in this food chain.
“What was I thinking? These are wild African lions. I can’t do this? Why am I doing this?” I continue, my fear all-consuming.
The lions sound as if they have us surrounded. With roars seemingly coming from all directions, we continue our bedtime routine. Toothbrush in hand, I unzip the back of the tent and step out into our fenced-in restroom under the stars. As the water starts to flow from the outdoor bucket shower, I assess the two foot gap between the canvas fence and the ground. I think of my Siamese cat back home. He sees any small gap as an opportunity to stick his paws through to see what he can find. I imagine a lion, crouched on his stomach on the other side of the fence, waiting for the perfect moment to put his own paw under to swipe my ankle. Could a lion pull me under the fence and into the night? I curse my imagination for presenting each possible scenario in vivid, rapid-fire imagery.
By the time the shampoo is in my hair, I am petrified and non-sensical. As I repeat “I can’t” and “I’m so scared” in every single sentence, my husband does the only thing he can think of. Pulling me close and running his fingers through my wet hair, he holds me like a father would hold a scared child. “I’m scared too,” he says. “But I know it’s going to be all right.” Despite being in nerve-racking situations together in the past, David has always maintained his cool, hiding his own fears to comfort mine. This shocking revelation of his fear somehow settles down my own.
As he smooths his hands over my back, the lions wander off, looking for better things to do. Tracking the lions the next morning, I’m surprised to find that they had remained a half mile away from our tents. They had sounded so close.
We never do see the brothers, only hear them roaring nearby. By our last night, I know that they are ghosts in the darkness. There is no need to sleep with the tent flaps down. With abundant game nearby, I’m confident that they have better prey to pursue. I open up every flap in the tent, looking forward to catching a cool breeze on a sweltering night.
The following morning, as we gather for our final breakfast with our guide, my father speaks up.
“I heard the lions last night. They walked right between our tents.”
Our guide’s eyes widen as he lets out a small chuckle. “You heard that?” he asks of my father.
“Yes,” my father confirms.
“So did I.”