Just Lion Around

The writer pursues the ‘King of the Jungle’ in a less-than-co-operative Landy

We were calling it the Lions Tour. By the time we reached the Serengeti we’d seen no fewer than twenty different prides in three weeks. We’d even seen a dead black-maned male lying on the roadside in Ngorongoro. He could only have been dead for half an hour. No flies on him.

No-one had stopped to take photographs, which was odd especially given that dead lions look the same as lions doing nothing. In fact we watched it for a while to check that he really was dead and not just doing nothing.

We’d been in the Serengeti for two days and seen only a thousand zebra, several thousand wildebeest, two cheetah, two hundred Thompson’s gazelle and a few dozen Grant’s gazelle. No lions.

Leaving Seronera camp, we crossed a cutline where I had seen lions excruciatingly mating four years earlier. Not that I thought that they’d still be at it. I hoped not, for their sakes. Have you ever seen the agony on the face of copulating lions? Brings tears to your eyes. And they can do it up to forty times a day.

I was following a hunch, I told Matthew. We were going to Maasai Kopjes. We’d find lions there. I lurched off the road into a riverbed. The area was badly eroded and wet. We traversed the river, fording various channels. Land Rover. Can’t get stuck. Never lets you down.

And there they were. Lions. Three. A male and two females; one beautiful, one scarred and ugly. Coming straight towards us. A couple of game-viewers pursued them for a while then gave up and went away. We followed the lions along the river until they settled. We pulled up alongside them.

I turned off the engine and we sat. One female meandered off. The ugly one. The male, a fine creature indeed, rolled over onto the beautiful female. Would they? No.

They wandered away. I turned the key to follow. Nothing. Dead Land Rover. Then the alarm – whoop whoop whoop like a zebra in panic – shattered the peaceful Serengeti air. We didn’t have the code to override the immobiliser. The lions were walking away.

The battery was under Matthew’s seat. Lions notwithstanding, he leapt out, loosened the positive terminal, tightened it again and vroom – vehicle outwitted!

We caught up with the lions. Thwump, thwump, thwump. Eish! Puncture, back right. We stopped. So did the lions. What to do? Obvious. Change the wheel. It’s not going to change itself. Lions kept a wary eye on us and we on them. It was an exceptionally fast wheel-change.

We followed the pair for another hour until they leapt onto a kopje, Pride-Rock-style, and disappeared. Probably to mate, forty times, away from prying eyes and broken Land Rovers. Or maybe to lie down and do nothing.

That afternoon, on the same road, three pristine male lions strode, one after another, through the long grass and came to rest under a tree alongside the track. In search of the perfect shot, I reversed quite hard into the game-view which had crept up from behind. We had smashed our back light and there was a bit of a ding in the door. . No damage to the opposition. Just a very irate driver-guide.

The lions lay still but for a flick of the tail, seemingly unaware of the fracas. Matthew ill-advisedly asked the jolted American passengers if they were OK. “Just in case they want to sue me for whiplash?” I suggested to him. They were fine.

Unlike the Land Rover. Unlike mating lions. The Lions Tour. When the lion lies down with the Land Rover.