We had a very exciting update from our partners at Chada Katavi camp in Western Tanzania. They’ve had lots of elephant activity in camp in recent months much to the delight of guests. This week, they had an even more exciting in-camp visit from some local lions. Here’s the latest scoop directly from the camp managers!
Since everyone is getting tired of hearing about the elephants in Chada camp all the time, we decided to spice things up a bit. And since the animals haven’t yet figured out that we are trying to run a camp and host our safari guests in this little woodland overlooking the plains, they sometimes don’t let us get much sleep at night.
As if the incessant whooping of hyenas, prattling of the bushbabies and rumbling of the elephants wasn’t enough, the hippos and lions came to camp and had a major brawl the other night. It started at 2 a.m. with lions roaring. Then everyone heard the hippos snorting and hooting, and from then on there wasn’t much sleeping going on.
By 2:30, things were quieting down, until there was a very loud clatter which sounded remarkably similar to the time someone dropped a tray of cups, saucers and pots upon coming face to face with an elephant while delivering a dawn wake-up call to tent 4. But this was not wake-up call time. mean, if someone really wants to get up at 2:30 a.m. that’s fine; after all, we try to be very accommodating here at Chada.
Big clatter heard by the whole camp, then some growling and grunting. Hippos and lions, fighting. We assumed that the tall shelves holding our wine glasses, snifters and tumblers had just been knocked over by a fleeing hippo through the dining tent wall. Then our radio began to call my name, “Mark, Mark, Mark.” We were already awake, and Kristen said, “Alfred is calling you,” Alfred is our fearless night guard. Every morning I ask him the same question, “How did you sleep?” He laughs, every morning, and shakes his head and says, “I didn’t sleep.”
Alfred, whats happening?” “Lions are trying to kill a hippo at the mess tent”. We tried to go back to sleep, but twice more we heard loud banging noises, like wood being thrown around. Assuming that would be our lovely tables in the mess, we were seriously wondering what we would find at dawn. At 5:15, the radio goes again, this time a housekeeper was asking Alfred to come with a better torch because he can hear lions but can’t see anything. We dressed and headed out into the darkness, walking slowly and shining well ahead, stopping briefly to look at a beautiful cat snake crossing the path with it’s iridescent head glowing blue-green in the torch light. Then Kristen heard that classic fast heavy panting of a well-fed lion off to our right. I called Alfred and asked if all the lions were at the mess tent. He said there was one near tent 4 also. I answered that WE were by tent 4.
The housekeeper, Tano, had been heading to room 5 and heard it, then Alfred had come and they saw it in their torchlight. Thanks for the heads up! We moved away and went the long way to the kitchen. Issuing radios and good torches to the housekeepers, we sent one housekeeper back to the staff quarters to ask Maripet to come up so we could issue him a rifle, then we started checking the area to see where the lions were. Most were at the mess tent, where we could now tell they had killed something and were feeding. It was still too dark to see, but the sounds of their growling at each other and crunching and gnawing were plain to hear.
Maripet and I went to have a look at tents 4 and 5 at first light. Tent 5’s wake-up call was already late, and we didn’t want any impatient guests stumbling out to find a coffee. Maripet asked me to switch off my torch so he could see better in the dawn grey, and when I did, he pointed into the bushes between tents 4 and 5 and we saw a male lion walking away toward tent 5. We went back, got the housekeepers, and walked together to tent 4. When we told Charles and Marie Lou in tent 4 that there were lions in camp, he started laughing and she said, “Oh really?” This being their 28th year on safari, they knew what was going on throughout the night.
Telling them we’d be back at 6:30 to escort them to their game drive cars, we headed for tent 5. Again Maripet pointed into the bush and the male lion was walking away again, not pleased to be near humans on foot. A similar routine at tent 5, with an apology for the late delivery of the wake-up call, which elicited some sleepy laughter from Miloud and Pierre. Being told to wait for our return to escort them to their landrover, Pierre said, “Oui, oui. Don’t worry, I don’t go outside this tent!” Meanwhile, now knowing the lions were at the mess tent feeding, Kristen and Alfred went to tent 1 with a similar message for Alessandra and Antonella, “We’ll come back and escort you to your game drive cars.” They were pleasantly surprised when their guide, Emmanuel, showed up at their tent door with his landrover.
At 6:30, we could finally see what was going on at the mess. One side of the tent was pulled down, and five lionesses were feeding on a smallish hippo, right against the tent. Knowing how nervous lions are at seeing us on foot, and by contrast how relaxed they are in the presence of our open landrovers, the guides brought the landies around behind the kitchen and we did the same with the guests. The last thing we wanted was to have a sleepless night and no payoff at the end, so the rule of the morning was: no one must be seen walking anywhere beyond the kitchen within view of the lions. So in what we believe might be the shortest game drives in the history of Chada Katavi, we drove our landrovers 100 metres to the mess tent, switched off the engines and sat disbelieving as we took in the scene. Eventually the male showed up too, having skirted the tents and come back to the kill, so there were six lions sitting outside our damaged mess, feasting.