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  • Caroline Muchekehu

Always be aware of your surroundings

Today I ventured into the park, after a few weeks away. It always calls to me, in the hyena's whoop, or the lion's roar heard in the deep of the night. It wasn't long before I chanced upon 2 lion cubs walking purposefully through the grass. I slowed my car, anticipating where they might come out onto the road ahead of me. Shortly, out they trotted, bellies fat and heavy, and while calling out rather loudly, headed up the road ahead of me. Their mother came to meet them and after a brief rubbing of faces to calm them down, the lioness headed off up the road.

As I watched 6 pm draw nearer, I knew that soon I would need to head out of the park, so I turned left at the next intersection. My eyes scanned the sides of the road as I drove. Between the long grass on either side, and the height of my car, clear visibility was a challenge. Then ahead of me I spotted jackal lying on the side of the road. It lay there on the side of the road, curled up like a dog, giving me a chance to take some pictures. Unlike other jackals I have seen that run off, this one didn't move until I started my car. It was interesting to observe that after I drove past, the jackal returned to the same spot and lay back down.

Around the next curve in the road, I spotted a breeding herd of buffalo making their way out of the long grass and into the road. I love those chances to take images of animals walking towards me, and so I positioned my car at an angle, to allow me to shoot pictures out of the driver's side window and turned my car off. I clicked away as the numerous young calves romped around, all while the herd moved towards me.

As I pulled my camera back in, I heard some rustling to my right in the grass, and was startled to realize that there was a lion walking through the grass in my direction. I watched in frightened awe as it came right up to the edge of the grass, a few steps behind my vehicle. I quickly scanned around me, and was glad I had rolled up my passenger side window when I stopped to watch the buffaloes. The lion glanced towards the herd, then retreated back into the grass and lay down with its back towards me.

At this point I noticed that the herd seemed more alert and had slowed down in their forward march. Moments later, I watched another lion walking through the grass towards the first one. My mind was racing, wondering if there was a hunt in progress? Were there other lions stalking the herd, and here I was parked in the path of an impeding stampede as the buffaloes fled from the hunters. I turned the key in the ignition, shifted into reverse and started rolling back, my eyes darting between the hunter and the hunted. The second lion, which was wearing a tracking collar walked out of the grass, glanced at the herd, and quickly streaked across the road, with the first lion close on his heels. They seemed to melt into the grass on the left hand side and I watched as they vanished behind me.

In front of me, the herd of buffalo remained very alert, but cautiously walked forward. A few bulls broke out of the group, and stepped into the grass on the right. I could hear them sniffing and grunting, and it was clear they could smell the lions, as they accurately tracked the same path the lions had taken. They followed the smell up to the side of the road in front of my car. I wondered if they intended to sniff my car as well. At that moment I decided to roll my drivers window up, and did so as I glanced in the rear view mirror, in time to see the rear end of a lion slinking back across from left to right in the bushes behind me. Perhaps the hunt was still on.

I decided the best thing to do was slowly move forward, hoping the buffalo herd would give way. As I nervously navigated through the herd, and away from them, I wondered how I had found myself in such a dramatic moment. It was so unexpected, to suddenly encounter lions where I didn't realize there were any.

As I drove towards the exit gate, I couldn't help but marvel at the fact that such unique experiences can be had, all because I decided to take that particular road in Nairobi National park.

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