One of the things many people want to see on a safari is a kill. We were not expecting to be the victims of one. This is the day that our driver Mohammed saved our lives.
Fred had us on the road into the crater by 6:30am. It was barely light and the clouds hung so low on the rim that we couldn't see a thing. But after a few hair pin turns, we were below the clouds and a surreal moonscape began to appear. The crater is twelve miles in diameter and home to many animals that generally hang around the seepage spots, which form rivers, swamps or oases depending on the water flow. Since the water has no outlet, the water is quite alkaline. One forest of trees looked like they all had cancerous tumors on their trunks. These were the spots where the trees deposited unwanted chemicals as the water traveled up the trunks to their leaves.
Hyenas are especially plentiful here. We paused to watch them interact and struggled to understand their behavior. Though they generally work in packs, they are often quite mean to each other. Having a full stomach seemed to improve their temperament. We saw guinea fowl buzzing around, moving so quickly it was tough to keep them in the camera frame. By then the sunshine had broken through the clouds and their heads glowed an iridescent blue. Herds of baboons swarmed around us, picking nits out of each other's fur and munching on vegetation. A flock of flamingos flew by, bright pink against the blue sky. They were cruising for a lake with the perfect ph level to grow the algae they love to eat. Pelicans bobbed in the shallows, scooping up tiny critters in their commodious bills. We ate lunch on a large lake full of hippos. They bobbed in the shallows, rising just enough to take a breath every few minutes. This park used to be full of rhinos; now there are just 24 thanks to the poachers. A special rhino ranger squad follows around the survivors, ensuring that they will continue to survive. No one admits it, but Fred said that if they see a poacher, they shoot first, talk later - if the poacher is still capable of talking. We managed to see six rhinos at varying, hard-to-photograph distances.
Then the call came on the radio - lion kill in progress. Mohammad drove like a maniac and when we got close we were surprised to see about twenty other land rovers already there. This park is so big, we rarely saw another jeep, but everyone had gotten the message. The early arrivals had gotten to see a pack of about fifteen lionesses bring down a baby buffalo. It appeared that they had done so for sport. None of their muzzles were bloody; no one was eating. A few of the younger ones lay around the body, patting it and taking its head in their mouths. If they could have taken a selfie, they would have. The rest of the pack lay nearby, fat and happy.
We were ready to leave when one lioness got up and walked toward us. She lay down in the shadow of our jeep. This behavior is common; hot lions look for shade wherever they can find it. Ken and I had the front seat and we stood on our seats to peer out the open roof and see where the lion was. Suddenly she jumped up on the hood of our rover. One more step and she would have come through the open roof and on top of us. Our driver Mohammad started the engine and rolled up the windows. Inanely I wondered where the button was to close the roof top. Our family car has a sun roof; the rover does not. Then Mohammed gently put the rover into reverse, the lion lost her balance and fell off the hood. I don't know who was more startled. The hood was laced with scratches from those sharp claws that could have made mince meat of us. In retrospect we thought about what could have happened. The lion could have come through the window or fallen through the roof. We could have been sharing the interior of the rover with the lion. Then what?
As I am writing a few hours later, I'm not sure whether to be thrilled or whether I'll be suffering from PTSD.