Sometimes when in teasing mode, I like to say that the best part of a visit to the Luangwa Valley in Zambia is what you experience in bed. I had awoken that morning in Tafika camp with my head full of lions: and that was because the night had also been full of them.
Not as close as all that, but they had, it seemed, made their music for hours. I heard them as I was going to sleep; I heard them in the middle of the night when I awoke; I heard them again and again as I lay between sleeping and waking. The river acts like a megaphone and the calls come rolling down the valley, making a welcome interruption to a night’s sleep.
It’s all about lion communication: communication between prides and communication between individuals within prides. If it has a message you can express in words, it is “I am here”; and again and again the answer comes thundering back: “Well, I am here.” Threats, challenges, affirmations, solidarity, ties of kinship, ties of enmity, perhaps even ties of love.
It’s not as if I was in any danger as I lay in my bed with the African night all around me. I was just sharing the night with lions: and ever since I first had that experience 33 years ago I have never got over the wonder of it. Lions define the valley: every roar reminds you that you are a trespasser.
We had seen lions on most days in the course of this trip and that was all wonderful. But when their voices come out of the dark – well, that adds a degree of intimacy that staring can never rival. I am not here for the sightseeing: I am here so that I can, for a few days, live in the same world as lions. From the warm and intimate darkness a lion’s voice rises above the other sounds of the African night: and as another lion answers, who could fail to rejoice?
- I was co-leading the Ultimate Luangwa safari for wildlifeworldwide.com. Next year I will be co-leading https://www.wildlifeworldwide.com/group-tours/sacred-combe-safari and I will also be participating in https://www.wildlifeworldwide.com/group-tours/festival-of-wildlife-zambia