Recently I was fortunate to spend two weeks in southern Africa in the bush in a zoo without Borders. After a long flight from New York to South Africa and a relatively short flight to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, a small group of fellow travelers and I flew in several single engine planes and later three helicopters to a wonderful elegant resort campsite miles from everywhere deep in Botswana. Botswana is about the size of Texas , has a population of about 2 million people and has reserved approximately 37% of its land for the preservation of its natural habitat.
The first thing you notice as the dawn comes up on the first day is how wide the sky is. As you scan it you notice that the clouds offer several widely different configurations and weather patterns. Then you realize how big the land is beneath the sky and how far away you are from everybody else.
Slightly before dawn, during breakfast on the first day, we are told explicitly that the jeeps which we will be riding in have no sides and as long as we stay within the boundaries of the jeep we will not be attacked by any of the animals. The animals are apparently not threatened by the jeeps for the jeeps are apparently perceived by them as foul smelling mechanical elephants which neither attack the animals or are worthy of their attack. That is the basis for our safety.
However, we were informed, if we get out of the jeep it is an entirely different game. We are told that within the last two years in South Africa a photographer who leaned out of one of the jeeps for a better photograph was attacked by a lion and when the guide tried to save her he was also killed.
The first morning as we leave the campsite we travel into the bush and see huge herds of zebras and impalas that are living in fear of the lions which stalk them but we see no lions. The second morning just after Dawn we turn into a small clearing and are confronted by four lions walking slowly toward us from a distance of about 50 yards. The driver stops the jeep and instructs us to say nothing but feel free to photograph. The Lions slowly and methodically move toward us. We are facing them and they are walking toward us.
As the lions slowly approach my fellow riders in the jeep become either “believers” that the jeep is safe territory or “nonbelievers” and with every step of the Lions, start to show an increasing countdown of the last seconds of their lives. They can’t move and the fear becomes palpable. The eyes are wide and the breathing becomes slightly labored.
On the other hand, the believers or happily photographing and silently adjusting their telescopic lenses. The Lions grow closer and closer and within 10 feet they veer to the right and one veers to the left so that it will be behind us. Everyone in the jeep recognizes that they must keep their eyes on the three lions that will pass to our left within several feet of the jeep but we will not be able to turn and watch the one lion that is moving behind us on our right. The believers continue to happily photograph adjusting their telescopic lens to catch the reflection of the jeep in a Lion’s eyes. The nonbelievers are breathing softly, their eyes closed, waiting for death.
After a few moments they were passed us and we started the engine and continued our day.