The name of our native guide was James. He had a beautiful display of white teeth set in an enormous warm friendly smile. That evening he took us on an adventure to see the lions at night. Issued with a warm parka, rain-proof on the outside and blanketed on the inside, six of us clambered into the 4-wheel drive and set of into the night.
It was a beautiful clear starry night, cold and crisp. We drove for about an hour across the partially dried-up water-course and through the forest, which by day was full of chattering monkeys. We came out into a relatively open area with long grass and heavy thicket on the other side. Crossing the clearing, our guide edged slowly and cautiously along the rim while we sat in hushed expectation.
Sure enough we were not disappointed, for there in the moonlight a male lion with a lioness by his side. By this time we were all holding our breath with excitement, and our guide stopped the vehicle just a few yards from this amorous pair. James endowed us with his brilliant smile and stated that no one was to move, or get down from the vehicle and we would all be perfectly safe.
Not another word was said, as James or “Mr. Magic” as he was affectionately known, turned on an infra-red light. This did not seem to disturb the lions at all and their eyes glowed eerily as they continued with their courtship. They are enormous animals up close; with such huge paws. They are quite magnificent creatures.
For a while we were all too terrified to move a muscle in case we disturbed the pair and they turned on us. I noticed James had quietly placed his rifle on the seat beside him as he usually did if he felt there may be danger. The cameras started clicking tentatively and the lion and lioness continued pacing up and down in a confined area, nuzzling, nudging and biting one another affectionately. You couldn’t help feeling they were a happily married couple.
It was hard to believe that we could be sitting so close to these wild animals and they seemed totally oblivious to us. We watched transfixed as they continued their courting, brought to a climax by a triumphant roar from the Lion. Then shortly they both stood up and appeared to be looking directly at us. James very quietly started the engine and slowly backed the vehicle a few hundred yards away from the lions, before turning off the lights. He then swung the vehicle around and we headed back to camp.
We were all very silent on the trip back, awed by the events we had just witnessed, and not believing we could be in darkest Africa, so close to the wild beasts and witness to one of their most intimate performances, and live to tell the tale. James had certainly earned his title of “Mr. Magic”.