The Okavango Delta is one of those storied international locales that brings to mind instantly a series of marshes and waterways teeming with wildlife synonymous with Africa. It is a protected area in the heart of Botswana and at its center is the Moremi National Park; home to countless creatures who have been fortunate enough to happen upon this sanctuary.
My story is about one of these creatures. A lion whose ear for music tapped instinctively into the rhythm of the land upon which he was king.
The roads into Moremi are little more than dusty tracks; a far cry from the tarsealed center-striped highways of Kruger. Then, even those disappear and you find yourself without a pre-conceived direction; lost in the intoxicating vastness of the African bush. It becomes easy to feel like you are in uncharted territory; like it must have felt 100 years ago.
I wrote the following entry in my journal.
There are no other people and there won’t be for the next three days. What I do see are hundreds of tsebee, impala, elephants, birds in flocks of thousands, and a landscape that can only be described as Africa, pure and simple. It is what I have always imagined when thinking of this continent and it lives entirely up to my expectations; surpassing them.
The grasses are tall, the water holes full, the savannas huge, and the delta secretly laps against the land. Hippo’s, crocodiles, plants, and everything abound here.
It’s like utopia..if you’re an animal.
Unlike in other game parks, the landscape changes quickly; from thick wooded areas to open meadows, to wet delta swamps, to tiny atolls rising just slightly above water level. Providing just enough dry ground to pitch a tent and build a fire. The bones of a recently killed giraffe lay at the islands center and bring home the fact that at this camp there are no fences.
Our group is small; only four of us including the guide. He explains that tonight we must sleep with our tents zipped up as lions have been known to come into camp and once dragged a man out of his tent by his feet. Fortunately the man had friends who awoke to see their friend being mauled, made plenty of ruckus and eventually the lion thought better of his meal and settled for scoring only a sleeping bag.
Our guide announced he was going to sleep in the truck…what!
I awaken from my sleep and hear noises. Heeding the earlier advice I make no sound but quietly look out the bottom of the front flap. I can’t see it but a hippo is grazing beside my tent; right next to me. I hope he doesn’t step on me. I hear the lions roar; good. I fall asleep.
Deep inside Moremi is a semi-solid mass full of petrified trees called Dead Tree Island. It is here we come across two male lions spread out enjoying the peace and quiet in conjunction with the midday sun. We drive the open-top land cruiser within feet of where they lay; immediately the sounds of three over-zealous amateur photographers breaks the silence with the familiar whirs and clicks of a camera shutter capturing every twitch and breath.
One of them is the largest lion in the park and name is “Warrior”. Neither are very concerned by our presence and continue sleeping; intermittently opening an eye to check us out.
As I have done around the world to invoke a situational change, usually involving children who need to smile or laugh at something, I break out the harmonica and begin serenading the lion duo with a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine”…it seemed appropriate at the time.
I play softly so as not to shock or annoy them and actually they seem to like it. First, Warrior sits up. Head held high he listens; then he stands. Then he looks directly at me and pacers closer. The second lion follows suit. I have an audience of two kings.
Music soothes the savage beast comes to mind.
It is incredible to be so close, to hear them breathing, stare at the size of their paws, mane, and jaws. I admit I feel flattered that they like my harmonica playing so introduce them to some Chicago Blues. I have no idea what was going through their minds but to me it was all good. I was loving it and I am assuming they were to.
Unexpectedly the land cruiser sprang to life. The guide was ready to move on I guess. It startled Warrior and he jumped up in a flash; eyes blazing with wild instinct.
It is at this point that we see in his eyes something we had not yet seen. I guess it is the intensity of the wild that they live with daily, the instinct to kill, to protect, to be the predator they are born to be. It gave us all a bit of a scare but Warrior recognized the situation for what it was and almost immediately his eyes calmed.
He continued to look at me and as we drove away I resumed my blues serenade to the king of all beasts. One of the coolest and most memorable experiences I was to have in Africa.