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Hands on experience in the Selati Game Reserve
The "Hands on" experience was amazing. We had many "encounters" with Lion, Elephant and Rhino ~ all memorable. The prime encounter has to be this.
I was there in the Bush when they tranquillised (darted) Mbhurri ~ a mature lion, in order to replace a malfunctioning tracking collar.
The operation initially utilised three vehicles, the Research team, which included us volunteers, a Marksman's vehicle , and a safari vehicle transporting the Vet.
Earlier in the day we had located where the pride were resting up using telemetry ~ a skill the volunteers soon acquire. Once the marksman had fired the tranquillising dart we used these vehicles to split the pride and drive off the other Lions. We created mayhem as our vehicles crashed through the bush ~ the pride scattered.
Mbhurri sank to the ground ~ the team moved in; the old collar was removed and the new collar was secured. The volunteers were then invited to get down off the vehicle to get close ~ I tickled him behind the ear like you might do to a domestic cat or dog !
The vet then injected the drug to stimulate recovery ~ could be 10 minutes: could be 2 hours ! Just wait and see.
Following the replacement, the marksman and the vet went home, their job done. We however remained, as darkness descended ,to ensure that Mbhurri recovered from the anaesthetic before the remaining members of the pride, (two mature males and two mature females) found him. Had they reached him before he recovered the pride would have killed him ~ any weakened animal is likely to be attacked and dispatched.
So there we were sitting in our open topped 4x4 safari vehicle standing guard over our patient. It was to be over an hour before he opened an eye; a further hour before he attempted to stagger to his feet. It was tense ~ it was now getting dark.
Skinny , Mbhurri's brother, made the first approach ~ we reversed our truck towards him ( driving at and over thorn bushes) in order to block his path. We created as much din as we could by yelling ( well roaring !) and banging the sides of the vehicle. Skinny withdrew.
Mbhurrri didn't stir. We tried throwing some small stones and sticks at him ~ we even threw a mug of water over him in an attempt to stimulate a response. It was a race against time as the sun was going down Not a place to be as it at night that Lions become active.
Then, what we feared.... in the pitch black our spotlight picked up one set of eyes deep in the bush Then there were two, then a third set. Shaka, the alpha male leading followed by the two girls, Selati and Mica. They shapes emerged from the darkness. They were coming for Mbhurri and only we and our truck stood in their path.
The next five minutes were to prove critical ~ Mhburri staggered to his feet like a drunkard. And after giving us a strange stare started to move into the bush towards the oncoming pride members.
We again created mayhem trying to keep our vehicle between Mbhurri and the advancing pride. But where was Skinny ~ were we encircled ?
As Mbhurri regained strength and became more mobile it became impossible to stop the pride from coming together. He was beginning to walk with more assurance ~ we held breath as Shaka and Mbhurri found themselves head to head on a narrow gap between the thorn bushes. They passed shoulder to shoulder without so much as a glance.
It was time for us to withdraw. Mbhurri had been accepted back into the pride ~ they were reunited.
A close encounter never to be forgotten.
My best Safari ever.
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