A lion roar is not to be confused with the petulant snarl that comes before a Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer film. The real thing sounds like a god vomiting up the earth. It fills the bush from one horizon to the other and it fills the soul of listening humans with awe and terror.
I was back on the plateau, back on the lofty table-land at Samara. This is a place where lions are roaring again after a break of 180 years. The place was farmed and the wildlife extirpated… but now the broken land is being mended and all around there is a sense of healing.
It was little after dawn, a sharp wind, and damn cold: I was in all the layers I could command. A great roar rang out: and there, skylined – practically everything above two feet tall on this plateau is skylined – was a lion, male and massive, the mane extending onto his chest and over his back.
He wasn’t roaring himself. He was standing, listening, working out who was roaring and why and what he was going to do about it. We drove to within a close but polite distance, and he took note of us. But the distant roar required all his attention.
He stood to his full height, took a huge breath — and replied. He gave the full lion roar: a dozen syllables long, filling the plateau, reaching the land below and almost causing our own solid vehicle to quake. Certainly the air all around was quaking.
The big chest heaved, in and out like a bellows with each fragment of roar: he gave it everything and his song was glorious. And with each roar a bubble of breath steamed out in front of him: before this mighty-maned lion a roar made visible, hanging on the chill morning air till it was blown away by the next one.
It was time to leave. Down the escapement, back to cities and hotels and airports and England. Off I went, the roar still echoing through my mind. I could still hear it; damn it I could still see it.