In May 2016, Danie and Fransie Lubbe, together with Bets and Jeanne Conradie, camped at Khiding in the Mabuasehube area. They were towing an off-road caravan, arrived late in the afternoon and decided to pitch only the rally tent with its two side panels. This is their story.
It started raining softly during the night. Towards dawn lion were roaring in the distance. After a while we heard something outside, but thought it was water dripping from the tree. Bets was the first one up and went to brew the morning coffee but as she opened the caravan door she shrank back, slammed the door shut and called out “The lions are outside!”
We thought she was joking but seeing her expression we realised that she was not. For a moment we were all in a state of shock. Then Danie and I jumped out of bed, grabbed the camera and stumbled to the door, after all, to be close to animals is why we were camping at Mabuasehube.
Danie carefully opened the caravan door and looked straight into the big yellow eyes of a magnificent lioness. Two females were casually licking water droplets off the transparent side panel of the tent while we were watching from the inside. With trembling hands Danie fiddled with the camera, turned it on to video mode, stepped out of the caravan while he continued filming and I followed. Then it suddenly dawned on us that what we were doing was probably quite dangerous; the lionesses were less than 50 cm from us on the other side of a thin plastic-sheet window. They were licking the tent wall so enthusiastically that they almost toppled a water container and a bottle of Bells off the camp table.
As the lionesses paused and started moving towards the back of the caravan, Danie followed them. In his enthusiasm to keep filming, he bumped into one of the camp chairs stacked at the perimeter of the rally tent to keep animals out. At that very moment we discovered with quite a shock that there was a third lioness to our right. I made a sudden movement, she got a fright and jumped up, turning in mid-air like a domestic cat. On landing she immediately regained her composure and elegantly moved off towards the braai grid and started licking it. The other two joined her, licked the grid a few times and moved off to sit under a tree about 20 m away. That is where they spent the rest of the day. Unbeknown to us, and as our neighbours told us later, the male lion was watching all this from a safe distance in the bushes nearby.
We regard this incident and close encounter as a special treat and privilege. This is the kind of wilderness experience every nature lover dreams of.
Photo story: Danie and Fransie Lubbe