I’m standing in the darkness of the Kalahari dawn outside my clients chalet door. I’ve just come from seeing the ranch owner and have confirmed all is set, we are on track, the cat is ready for us. I confirmed again, as we had done the night before, this was the big male and that it was a black maned beast. The owner had looked at me wearily as he stirred sugar into his coffee, he had driven through the night to get here and now his look told me not to push any further on this issue, he had found the cat, it was ready what more did I want.
I knocked hard on the chalet door, paused a moment and then shouted ‘John wake up, wake up, we have a phone call from one of the cattle ranches,… seems a lion crossed into his property late last night, he heard a single male roaring…..I think this is our Lion’
While we are grabbing a quick cup of coffee and toast I hear a truck pulling into the lodge, the ranch owner jumps out and repeats the story to us, he is impatient he wants to go, the trackers and the dogs are ready, the Lion may move back to Botswana at any minute, lets do it guys.
We drive for half an hour crossing out of the high fenced game ranch onto a low fenced property which we are told is the cattle ranch were the Lion was heard. The Kalahari sand makes difficult driving you have to keep a reasonable speed which we do for another 20 minutes bouncing around on the back of the truck. Suddenly a small figure appears in the track ahead, a tiny wizened comical man jumping up and down in the road as if we have not seen him and his half breed dog straddled across the road in the early morning sun.
The farmer barks a few words to him in Afrikaans, ‘you little bastard you were lying in the sun like your dog, sleeping’ and he laughs back ‘yes boss it was damn cold when you dropped me off an hour ago’ he points into the bush and the farmer looks at the client in a solemn face: ‘fresh tracks, he found fresh tracks in here, get your gun ready’. There’s a hubbub around the vehicle as trackers pile off and dogs sniff at each other, my client is fumbling to get his ammo belt on and heavy jacket off at the same time, I can sense his excitement.
We walk into the bush with the little wizened tracker at the lead, a gaggle of dogs around his feet and the others spread in a semi circle. The pace is fast and hurried until the little tracker stops in a clearing and points to the ground, a massive paw print in the red sand. We load rifles, our formation changes, now we are directly behind the little bushman, guns at the ready, the farmer behind us without any weapon, hands in his pockets looking bored. The dogs are running ahead on the track and then turning back every time they get too far, they know the drill, they can smell the cat and have seen action before this day.
Suddenly the little bushman stops in his tracks, he clucks to himself and then shakes his head and says to me in Afrikaans, ‘he’s lazy this one, perhaps he’s cold, we’ll find him soon lying in the sun’. Despite the situation I never fail to marvel at how these little people are perfect hunters, merging their being with that of the quarry and almost becoming the beast. I stood for a minute trying to pick out how he had concluded this but gave up and signaled we move on.
One of the younger dogs comes charging back at us through the bush and the bushman ducks out of our way saying to me ‘here he comes’, we all freeze and watch as the massive beast appears ahead of us in the clearing, startled and skidding to a halt his head held up high, eyes fixed. I can sense a look of bewilderment in his face as I tell John to take him in the chest, and make it quick, he’s going to charge.
The shot is always drowned out by the Lions roar as the bullet hits him, this is more or less universal, as is the jump into the air. He lay there for a while his growls slowly subsiding to total silence, it was a good close shot, a clean kill, the cat had died. We clap John on the back and shake his hand and say numb things like good shot, what a massive boy, you don’t get many of them around anymore, what luck a Botswana black mane!