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Camping with lions

The night was dark at the Lobo campsite in the Serengeti Park in Tanzania. Although there were many stars visible in the sky, their light was not enough to see more than 20 meters in the darkness. It was impossible to see anything of the large valley, which extended into a low range of mountains. The few buffalo's and zebra's who could be seen grazing during the day and who had to be there were not recognisable in the darkness. Probably from their site they were able to see the two groups - the Dutch and one French - camping just under the rocks which were partly covered by the few trees and the not so dense bushes.

As it was still early - around 9 pm - and as we just had our three course diner by our excellent camping cook "Philippe", we were just playing a word game called "Scrabble". With Scrabble you should try to make words using 7 selected letters, connecting it to at least one of the other words made by the other players. Every letter yields a certain score, so for example the word 'lion' is only 4 point as l, i, o, and n are ordinary letters. The word quiet gives some 17 points, as q and u yield 10 and 4 points respectively.

It was not so quiet however. Every now and then the game was disturbed by the jackals who were making their way through the bushes to the refuse dump bordering the camp site. It was a hole in the ground where the cooks dumped the remainders of the food. As it was the dry season and not many wildebeests were available, the jackals liked this supplement to their usual diet. When shining with a torch in the bushes, you could see their small glittering green eyes, as they also stopped running and turned their heads to the campsite, fascinated by us and the lights. It was even a bit uneasy, so when they came too close or made too much noise, those of our group who were sitting with their back to them - Ronald and Katinka - jumped up. After all, you never know with these wild animals, whether they will attack or not. Besides we had also spotted the spotted hyena who usually does not attack people, but is bigger and more dangerous than the jackal.

Suddenly, the noise in the bushes became more intense. The jackal cried and ran in the opposite direction, away from the refuse dump. We all jumped up, but fortunately they did not come after us. Obviously, something else had attracted their attention. "I see a monkey", Pauline cried, 'they must be quarrelling. Relieved we returned to the game. But few seconds later it turned out that 5 days of safari had not been enough to distinguish a monkey from a lion on 20 meters distance. The guide of the French group had jumped in his car and turned on the head-lamps. It was now clear, a large female lion had walked right through our camp while we were playing scrabble.

The car started to chase the lion and it appeared that there were three more just next to the campsite. We were in real danger and the French ladies started to panic.

At this point all of us agreed that it made no sense to finish the Scrabble game. 'Hide in the jeep', our guide screamed, 'but don't run otherwise they will think you are a prey'. Swift-footed we entered the car, 4 behind the steering wheel and two on top of the roof. We had a splendid view of the French jeep chasing the lions in the open field. The big cats were running in the light, not knowing why they, kings of the Serengeti, were being chased instead the other way around.

After a while the jeep returned. Carefully, we got out of our car, because it was still too dark to see whether all four lions had really disappeared. We returned to our tents and quickly closed the zips, while the real heroes, our guides Twahu, Philippe and Amadi, installed some additional lights and parked the cars in front of the most isolated tent on the left.

The French group decided that they had enough adventure for today. Although their guides begged them to stay and assured them that there was no problem - lions never attack tents - they left for the lodge to return only the next morning.

And we? Brave as we were we stayed in our tents, dreaming about the fact that although lion in scrabble is only 4 points, if you have four of them it makes already 16. Although brave? The next morning there appeared to be many signs of toilet visits remarkably close to the tents.

The next day we left Lobo campsite. Just after our departure, we noticed at least 8 lions (32 points) laying in the sun. There were zebra's nearby, but they did not start a hunt, as if they were saying 'we were not allowed to look at you last night, so now you stay there in your safe car and have a look at the zebra's.

Serengeti, October 1999.

Music: Spannend ©