On Safari at Salt Lick — a Close Encounter with Lions
While it might have appeared from our recent stories from the Masai Mara (such as this one), that the animals walk up to a picturesque spot and pose like supermodels, not all game drives will have you filling memory cards on your camera.
Over the course of three days on safari at Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge we would do four game drives, and on a few of those, including a night drive, many of the animals we’d been used to seeing as a matter of course at the Mara, failed to make an appearance.
One great thing about staying at Salt Lick are the fantastic viewing opportunities afforded by the balconies at the property that allow you to watch the frequent visitors to the waterhole — elephants, zebras, buffalos, monkeys, baboons, giraffes, warthogs, and more. After a couple of drives, we even considered canceling our other game drives and staying at the property so we could just sit and watch the dynamics between the different species (note: elephants are bullies).
One safari at Salt Lick we were glad we didn’t cancel was an early morning drive on the second day. Our guide, Oliver, who is Salt Lick’s senior warden, told us about a pride of lions who were lazing about under some trees. A lot of the time on safari, as we would discover, this can mean a not-so-reliable sighting of a few pairs of ears in the distance, with people desperately trying to make out the hazy shapes of the animals before disappointedly driving off, and spending the next ten minutes checking and rechecking cameras, in the hope of some evidence that lions were actually there…
This drive, however, was to be different…
Oliver drove us to the spot he’d heard about, where we found a dozen minibuses jam-packed with tourists, all with cameras or binoculars to their eyes. Oliver was pretty calm about the several sets of ears we could barely make out in the distance. They were so far away, they looked like rocks. We couldn’t see any point in staying. Lara was eager to return to Salt Lick for the better views of wildlife from one of the balconies.
Yet Oliver said there was an old track that would take us closer which the other drivers (from tour companies, not from Salt Lick), wouldn’t know about, as it was overgrown with grass. As Oliver didn’t want the other vehicles to follow, and scare the animals, we would need to wait until the other vehicles left.
Once the last mini-bus was out of sight, Oliver drove off the dirt road and onto a barely discernible track in the direction of the clump of trees. As we drove nearer, the number of lionesses we could see increased. And then we noticed the cubs. There was a tangle of fur.
Lara counted twelve cats of various ages and in various states of repose. They had clearly — or hopefully — just eaten, and were licking their lips and lazing about, some sleeping peacefully, others yawning. We hadn’t yet attracted their attention…
After I clicked off a few dozen frames, however, one lioness sat up and took notice. She appeared to become increasingly interested in what could potentially become dessert. Us.
This stirred the other lions. A few more sat up, and then another got up and started sharpening her claws on the tree. The rest started sniffing the breeze. A few showed us their very beautiful but sharp-looking teeth. One struck a pose we had seen in the Mara — a pose that our guide there, Edward, described as a lion’s ‘stalking’ pose. She was hunched down close to the ground, with her ears back, paying very close attention to us. Her tail started swinging from side to side. It reminded me of the pose a kitten takes just before it attacks a butterfly.
Had we gone from trying to capture tempting photographs to tempting fate? I leaned over the front seat to subtly check whether our driver was carrying a gun. Perhaps sensing our apprehension, Oliver asked if we had enough photos and we both firmly answered “yes!” in unison. Oliver was as cool as a cucumber.
We drove off, not fast enough, but still somewhat relieved. We had lunch waiting back at the lodge and we weren’t too keen to become someone else’s meal.
When we arrived at the restaurant, the friendly waitress asked us if we’d be having drinks with lunch? “Yes!!!” we responded in unison. It was a safari at Salt Lick we wouldn’t soon forget.