One of the privileges of working in Greater Kruger National Park is getting to know and understand more about the local tribe. The Shangaans are a very proud group of people. They are widely regarded as some of the best trackers in Africa whose knowledge of the bush and bravery are legendary.
They are also superstitious.
This perspective is obviously from a western civilization’s point of view and not necessarily correct, just as a lot of our believes would be seen as superstitious from the Shangaan’s perspective.
A few years ago I started noticing the lack of tracks and animals that one of my esteemed trackers were seeing. I did not now how to breach the subject knowing the pride in physical appearance my Shangaan trackers have. One day a pair of prescription glasses were left behind by one of the guests and I thought this as good an opportunity as any. I suggested to him trying it out and the effect was astounding. He even eagerly accepted my invitation to wear it during the next game drive.
Non of this, however, was going through my mind as a male lion was charging straight at me and my tracker from barely 15 meters away. The growl reverberated through the empty rooms of my soul until it was dominating my whole existence. A lion charge starting from so close away does not leave a lot of distance for it to stop. This was racing through my mind!
Oh, before I forget. We were also unarmed as I stupidly left my rifle in the car. It was lying safe and secure on the dashboard with a car full of wide-eyed guests with no clue of how to handle a rifle, and who were very impressed with the show we were putting up while fully believing that we were in complete control of the situation.
Another fact that I neglected to say was that this was the lion’s 3rd charge.
Now back to the beginning. My newly bespectacled tracker saw fresh lion tracks! I got out of the car and followed the tracker who was following the lion tracks. We barely got going when this huge male lion appeared from behind some dense shrub and charged. He stopped about 20 meters away from us and was walking away again before I even realized that we had been charged. We then slowly started moving backwards towards the vehicle which suddenly triggered another charge. Again he stopped, but this time he did not walk away. His eyes were burning coals locked into ours. I remember someone starting a generator next to us until I realized that it was the unrelenting sound of a lion growling only meters away.
Then in an explosion of dust and leaves he charged again, for the 3rd time. He skidded to a halt only 5 meters away. I wish someone would put that damn generator off. So here we were, with seconds slowly ticking by. A highly pissed off lion, my tracker and I all giving each other the evil eye. Some of us more submissive than others. And then I saw out of the corner of my eye, a hand slowly rising to my trusted tracker’s bespectacled face. I watched incredulously as he slowly removed his glasses and lowered his hand. “What the f*c% are you doing?”, I not so gently enquired. “It is the glasses’ fault”, he accused me while turning around and walking nonchalantly away click. Not wanting to be left behind I followed eagerly, never letting the lion out of my sight. This left a very bemused and slightly embarrassed looking lion behind.
The glasses are still gathering dust in my office somewhere and a blind as a bat tracker has been promoted to camp security official.