On the lookout for Lions…
By Jonno Short

Recently, I had guests who stayed at Great Fish River Lodge, who like all other guests, have a certain level of expectation. Whether it’s a list of animals to see or a sighting they wanting to better from a previous safari, most guests have very personal sighting requests. On this occasion, however, it was first-time safari goers who had no clue what they were in for that morning and neither did Yongama and I.

As the sun rose, we sipped our early morning coffees and chatted about the possibility of seeing a Lion or even a pride of Lions. The excitement was getting to them, their first-ever morning on a safari and the coffee wasn’t even finished. It was go time and our objective was, of course, lions.

We left the lodge, headed north across the river, via Melton crossing and the search was on. Reports came across the radio of lion audio in the far western parts of the reserve. So a slight change of plan to our route and the possibility of the unknown ahead of us.

Yongama and I every so often stopped, turning the engine off and would listen for further audio and survey the landscape for any sign of a lion. Now in these types of moments, yes, many things help. The best is always spotting the animal first, but if not seen, we use a large variety of signs to help us. For example, monkeys chattering, baboons barking, birds alarm calling, antelope barking/snorting and giraffe staring, are but a few ways, which point us in the right direction.

Yongama and I walked to a lookout point where we scanned for a good few minutes, looking for any sign, which would help us. By this stage, the guests were so in tune with what we were up to. They themselves were using their binoculars and were helping us scan every bush, every clearing and of course now studying each animal in case their behaviour was off. Just as we were about to continue, Yongama noticed an impala staring, but it was so far in the distance that it took me a while to see it. As I’m explaining this to the now very excited guests, we notice a giraffe that had started staring in the same direction. The lady says, “Jonno, what do you think they looking at”, but before I could answer, from the same direction of where those animals were looking, as clear as we could hear it, two male lions started roaring.

We finally arrived at the area where that incredible roar had come from, and the enthusiasm from all 4 of us was unreal. The gentleman then shouts, “lion, lion, lion, lion, lion, there, there, there” he’s now pointing to the right of the vehicle. Lying close together are these two male lions. We had literally just got into a viewing position, vehicle turned off and these majestic cats roared again. I quickly said, “hold the bars and feel the vibration”, as the guests did this, their faces told a story. Their facial expressions of seeing their first-ever lions, to feeling the vibrations of the roar itself was something I myself as a guide truly live for. Nothing beats turning around from the driver’s seat and seeing a guests reaction to experiencing something so incredible for the first time. It personally keeps me doing what I do and why I love my job.

We spent a good 30 minutes with these lions, I noticed that our guests hadn’t even taken their eyes of the lions and were still smiling. As we drove off, I turned around and said, “How was that?” to which she replied, “It’s been a dream of mine to see a lion.”