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Published: July 19th 2014
Ok, I lied, not all days are insanely early, today was actually insanely early, as in 4am early. Today was the day where we prayed to see lions, and since our best chance of seeing them is first thing in the morning, we got our asses out of bed and were on the game drive by seven.
Like the days prior, we saw many, many ungulates, particularly kobs. In fact, we saw hundreds of kobs! They were all over the park, to the left and right of the jeep, and crossing the road in front of us. We saw a couple square off and fight and even got to see a couple mating. We were, after all, in an area of the park called Kob's Mating Grounds, so we can officially say it lives up to its name. And naturally, we were pervy and took pictures. Alas, no lions yet.
Time was going by and the sun was coming up and we had yet to see anything other than the many kobs, waterbucks, and some buffalos. We didn't even come across many elephants. On game drives you must stick to the trails and so we
continued along the road, with our eyes peeled for a cat trying to cross it.
“I think I see a lion!” Thea yells out from behind a set of binoculars. Silas quickly stops the jeep. “Oh, never mind, it's just a bush.”
Thea gasps, “I think I see something!” Silas stops again. We all stare in the general direction she's pointing. “Nope. Just a mound of dirt.”
This continues on throughout the morning. As we pass other safari jeeps, Silas stops, asking them if they're having any luck, and so far no one has seen anything. This isn't looking too good for us. Silas makes a phone call after talking with one of the other drivers. He turns to us after and says he can get us lions. He tells us he's never done this before, but there is something called “experiential tracking” where we go out with a professional tracker from Queen Elizabeth who knows where the lions are, based on radio collars. It costs an additional $60USD, but after minimal discussion we decide to go for it. After all, this might be our only chance to see lions in
the wild. Potentially, the only chance in our lives. Silas works some more magic for us, and convinces them to let us go tracking right away, so we don't have to pay the additional park fee, as our permit would run out early that afternoon. Later, Silas told us he pushed so hard to get us lions because out of all the safaris he's done he's never been with a group who wanted to see lions as bad as us. I thank Silas a million times over for being so good to us! We couldn't have asked for a better driver!
Before I continue, I need to back up just a little bit. The tracker we pick up, James, works for a veterinarian, Dr. Sifert, who happens to be a long time friend of Dr. Card's and has taken many WCVM students on lion tracking expeditions with him in the past. I really wanted to meet up with him and spend a few days with him this summer while I was here, but due to an already busy schedule I knew the chances were slim. Unfortunately, he was away while we were on the safari, but maybe
I'll get a chance to work with him next summer if I'm lucky enough to come back.
We pick up James and he points us in the direction of the lions, which happens to be off in the bush, giving us the go ahead to break the rules and go off roading! According to his tracker, we're 100 metres away, then 20, then 10.
“There!” James points to a tree a few feet away from us, “there is a lion!”
All of us look and see nothing but trees and bush. After a lot of pointing and explaining, we finally see a male lying under a tree, only about 20 feet away from us. You'd think a male with a big mane, lying in plain view, would be easy to spot, but they blend in with their surroundings extremely well! We drove a few feet further to find several more lions all resting under a tree; I counted 12 in total, including two young ones. As we drove closer, James told us to close the windows as they make for an easy entry point into the jeep, however we still kept
the roof popped up to look out of – some of his logic might be a tad flawed. The mother lion, Sharon, tends to anger easy and has been known to chase and try to attack humans who come too close, so we had to keep a watchful eye on her to make sure she didn't get up or seem threatened. James told us she had eased up some since her cubs have grown up a bit, but you can never be too cautious around such dangerous animals.
As we looked on, one of the cubs got up and tried to play with a male and he was not having any of it. Suddenly, the male let out a small, but loud roar! And holy shit, that was enough to make me jump and need a change of underwear!
Prior to the safari, we were told that the only place in Uganda where there are tree climbing lions is an area of Queen E. called Ishasha. We made the mistake of asking James about this, who quickly snapped back at us, giving us a lecture on how all lions can climb trees. And he
was right! We got lucky enough to see one of the young lions climb up a tree and have a nap.
James also explained to us that it is getting more and more difficult to spot lions at Queen Elizabeth, as the population is declining rapidly. Many farmers are still allowed to live in the park, based on an agreement that they will “live in harmony with the animals”, however this is hardly the situation. Despite laws stating farmers are not allowed to keep cattle on the land, they do so anyways, which can make for an easy meal for lions. The farmers have now resorted to poisoning the lions to protect their cattle, which along with poaching, is quickly reducing their numbers. To make matters worse, one of the main food sources for the lions, the kobs, are also being hunted in high amounts. Oh and there's more, like most aspects of authority in the country, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, is also quite corrupt, and some even say they supply the poachers with firearms. All of these factors add up to explain why after driving around the park for a couple hours, we barely saw any
animals at all. Sadly, there is speculation that without more regulation and control over the park, with an emphasis on the protection of the animals, there may be no more living here in potentially as little as ten years.
Eventually, we had to say goodbye to Sharon, her daughter Monica and all the other lions. We dropped James off where he could meet up with another eager jeep of tourists and we continued on our journey.
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