I was so excited to find out that we were having a sleep out in Makalali Reserve and so soon after starting this course. It was also pretty cool to know that no canvas would be involved and we would literally be sleeping out on the ground surrounded by the bush under the stars. Fortunately, I had brought my yoga/sleeping mat and my new sleeping bag courtesy of a Christmas present from my father so was armed for a cosy night by the fire. Sentry duty was allocated and as there were 18 of us, we only needed to cover an hour from 10pm until 5am. We picked names out of a hat to see who would be partnering up and covering each hour.
We started the afternoon off with our usual practical drive finding awesome animals and birds along the way as well as brushing up on our botany skills. Then it was time to get to camp and when we got there, it was the most perfect open area with plenty of room for the 18 students and 3 trainers. The 3 game viewers were strategically placed on the outside of where we were going to sleep ready for sentry duty. The braai was lit and whilst the meat was cooking, our trainer Gerard gave a brief introduction to astronomy. I can’t put into words the African sky at night- it really is breath-taking how many constellations and shooting stars you can see and Orion’s Belt is so incredibly clear. I can see why people come to Africa just to see the night sky and stars. I cannot wait for when we cover astronomy as part of our course. I was so lucky to see a shooting star too!
After a lovely dinner and listening to the hyenas calling, we all settled down to sleep whilst the first people to start sentry duty went to a vehicle armed with a spot light, and began guarding the camp.
I wasn’t to start my duty with Marko until 4am which turns out to be my normal wake up time for yoga, so I had a great uninterrupted night’s sleep. Once awake I took over the spotlight from Mersin and sat on the bonnet of the viewer to get a better vantage point. It’s my favourite time of the day, and I love to watch the world waking up where everything is so still initially and being enveloped with the nocturnal noises of the bush, and that was just the trainers snoring!!
10 minutes into surveying the area, I spotted my first pair of eyes! Wow it was a lioness walking straight towards me! Then there was another lioness. Knowing that this called for a trainer to be woken up I started to call for Gerard who was sleeping behind the game viewer. I had no response and after seeing the third lion walking in, I quickly made the decision to put the light down and physically wake up the trainer. Once this was done and what only took 30 secs, I saw the fourth lion coming in. Despite the initial shock I was pleased to find that I remained calm, confident and not scared at all. At this point the other trainers woke up and walked the edge of the camp to deter the lions from walking in. It was also the same time the rain started so the students began to wake up.
The lions lay down behind some bushes with the sub adult male being very curious. Then last but not least a beautiful big male came into view. He was magnificent! So amazing- what a treat to see and on my watch, I couldn’t believe my luck.
With everyone up and busy putting camp away in the pouring rain and trying to see the lions, the
noise and activity were enough to discourage their interest in us and they left after about 30 minutes.
Once the camp was packed up and our stuff loaded on to the vehicles, we set off back to campus. On route we got a radio update that the lions were still in the area and we set off to find them. Lucky for us they were close to the road and although they were laying down when we found them, they soon moved off, clearly had enough of human contact!
It was the perfect ending to an exciting early morning encounter and I now can’t wait for the next camp out.
Blog & photos by Caroline Prior