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Alone with a Kill

Tamboti Camp - Kruger National Park

Tamboti Camp in Kruger National Park is a satellite camp close to Orpan gate where you check in. Staff at Tamboti is limited. All accommodations are fixed tents – permanently pitched on a hardwood floor; some with shared ablutions and kitchens; others with kitchens and bathrooms en suite. I booked one of the luxury tents since I had no thoughts of walking to a bathroom in the middle of the night in camp alone. It was my good fortune to have secured my requested tent number forty; coveted because it is on the far right of the camp surrounded on three sides by the camps’ fence-line.

I arrived and got unpacked then sat on the elevated porch to enjoy the view of the Timbavati dry riverbed and dove into a novel. As the sun began to set and the full moon made its appearance, I lit a fire in the braai which is situated down the porch stairs and next to the fence.

From previous stays, I knew the resident honey badger made nightly rounds so I was ready with what I called my tactical devises. I had a whistle hung around my neck. Attached to my belt was a small pocketknife and a torch. I am not sure what my plan was should the badger arrive; blow the whistle while blinding him with my torch and threatening the venomous snake eating, buffalo killing creature with my little switchblade? In retrospect, it was stupid, but those items gave me the confidence to sit out and enjoy the night alone while I watched the flames of my fire flicker and listened to the sounds of the bush.

All was calm as I watched bush TV. A troop of baboons crossed the riverbed headed to their nightly tree for safety. Birds and frogs sang a chorus as darkness fell. When the fire died down and the moon hung bright in the night sky, I retired to bed. I heard nothing until exactly two-thirty in the morning. The sound was that of the deepest, loudest, angriest voice I’d ever heard. In my stupor it sounded like the disturbance was inside my tent. I shot out of that bed like toast from a toaster; from dead sleep to wide awake. I stood there frozen, my tactical devises far from my grasp. The realization set in that I was in the remote tent number forty in the bush alone and all hell was breaking loose somewhere just outside my tent. After I gained some composure and listened to the commotion – still standing dead still in the center of the bedroom - I realized there were several lion making a kill somewhere really close. The angry roar of the lion and the screams of whatever was being killed permeated my tent and my brain. The hair on the back of my neck stood as erect as soldiers; goose bumps on my arms rose like a bad rash. Once the animal was dead, the lions began to feed. They argued and scrapped over the meal loudly. I still hadn’t moved an inch, frozen in complete disbelief. In tent forty there is a window that overlooks the camp fence. The fence is only two meters away from that window with a sidewalk in between that leads from where my car was parked to the porch. Motion out of that window caught my attention. My brain convinced my feet to move toward the window. I watched in astonishment as a parade of predators marched from left to right outside the tent window just on the other side of the fence; a hyena, then another, then jackal.... All the commotion of the lion caught the attention of other predators seeking an opportunity for a bite of whatever was for dinner. I stood at the window stooped down staring out dumbfounded and excited and scared all at the same time. Hyena sounded the alarm to call for reinforcements. Whooooup. Whoooup. Birds were chirping as if not a thing in the world was out of order. Lions continued to huff and puff and growl. I took one step back and sat on the bed. Unconsciously, I was holding my hand over my mouth, I guess so I wouldn’t scream.

My brain was flopping in thought like clothes in a dryer. I wanted to see the lion but was not willing to go outside of my tent. The gates to the camp had been open all day. Those lion could have very well come inside the camp. I saw a bushbuck in camp earlier that day. Perhaps the bushbuck was what the lion were eating. Maybe it was all happening just behind my tent inside camp. It certainly sounded like it. Do I step outside or not? My myriad of thoughts were constantly interrupted by roars and whoops and huffs, leaves crunching and bushes crackling.

Instead of leaving the tent, I made the decision to open the side window and quietly slide open the screen. I stuck one hand and arm out and shined my torch back and forth to see what I could see. At that very moment – my arm extended out into the wild - a lion let out a massive roar as if he’d seen me and was about to pounce. I jerked my arm back in and shut that window in a flash and sat back down on the bed to gather my composure; my heart beating out of my chest. I would have to wait for daylight, I concluded.

I looked on my nightstand and there were my tactical devises. I laughed aloud thinking those little comforts of safety would not help me at all in this situation. Trying to find levity, at that moment I renamed them my “weapons of little destruction”. For two hours the commotion went on; lions roared and huffed; hyena whooped; animals came and went and all I could do was sit there and imagine what was happening. At the first sign of light I gathered my wits, my weapons of little destruction, and cautiously stepped out onto my porch. The sounds were coming from the right. I crept down the stairs and up the walkway towards the sound. I saw nothing behind my tent or around my car. The sounds were further away behind the back fence. I took a few steps then stretched my neck like an ostrich to see. I crept closer and closer to the fence. I still heard the lions’ low roars, but I couldn’t see them.

A voice said loudly, “Do you see anything?” I about jumped out of my skin thinking my time had come to an end right then and there at Tamboti Camp. But it was just my neighbor who had also heard the commotion in the night and was out to investigate. The kill was just out of view behind some bushes. I believe it was a small antelope that was fully consumed within three hours of the kill since no vultures ever came.

As I left the camp later that morning, two male lion were laying under separate trees just outside of the camp gate, an open gate I might add. I knew these were the culprits of my sleepless night and the cause of my near heart attack.

The next day, after a well-deserved good rest I saw the entire pride of fifteen lion.

That crazy night was one of those I could never have truly prepared for; one that scared me to death yet was so exciting I live it repeatedly in my mind.

You bet on my next trip to Kruger National Park I will book Tamboti Camp and again request tent forty.

Until then….

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