You could be forgiven for assuming the main attraction in Victoria Falls is the waterfall itself. While the thunderous might of the falls certainly are impressive, it’s no comparison to experiencing my lifelong dream whilst in town. At the tourist centre on the main street, the staff offer a variety of adventure tours ranging from bungy jumping off the Victoria Falls bridge to rafting the Zambezi River. My ‘adventure’ days have been and gone and I am hoping there is something more sedate. Adorning the walls are posters of cute lion cubs and immediately I flash back to my favourite childhood movie Born Free. It’s based on naturalist, Joy Adamson’s love of working with lions and in no time I excitedly rush back to camp clutching a Walking With Lions brochure.
At 0500 the next day a minibus picks me up from the Victoria Falls Rest Camp with tourists from other hotels and we drive about 10 km to Masuwe Safari Lodge. The non-profit African Lion & Environmental Research Trust operates the tour from the lodge which is situated on a large estate. A briefing session is held in the rotunda and over a fabulously strong coffee, we are given a lecture on lion behaviour and safety. Questioning the danger element of a little orphaned cub, I ended up day dreaming as I am left wondering why a silly big stick was thrust into my hand as everyone moved to dutifully follow the guide.
Meandering over dirt tracks our guide stops every now and then to point out interesting footprints of various wildlife. After twenty minutes, and still no sign of any lions, we encounter a large dollop of dried elephant faeces . Our guide bends down to pick it up. With incredible fascination, he dissects it with his bare hands and imparts facts on their dietary habits. Increasingly agitated, the offending elephant is eating through my quality lion time. The group, also tiring of the David Attenborough documentary, continued the quest by negotiating their way through the unforgiving scrub.
Swatting away flies, attracted by the moisture forming on my brow, my mind wanders to colonial explorer, Livingstone. The hardships he must’ve endured as he slashed his way through the ‘dark continent’. What was with those ridiculous pith helmets anyway? I am finding it difficult to endure ten minutes let alone ten months of this. My corduroy hat gets hopelessly stuck on a sharp thorny acacia. Halting the momentum of the single file tourist formation, I take great care to extract it lest I stab my finger. It was pure adventure and our persistence finally paid off as the ranger becomes animated and elatedly exclaims “there’s Tamagunge and his twin brother”.
The delightful five month old cubs trot side by side towards us and they look decidedly bigger than I expected. After munching on some tasty Impala poo for breakfast, my new furry friends take refuge from the heat in the shade of a rock. Everyone has a turn having their photo taken with the critters who mostly lie there quietly. It’s now my turn and I eagerly crouch down behind Tamagunge and start patting him. Unlike my fluffy feline back home, I’m surprised at the touch of his rough, dusty coarse fur. The young predator particularly enjoys my style of vigorous caress as he becomes mischievous. Tamagunge leaps up and starts to play bite my wrist. Suddenly, the wise words of the authoritative park ranger emerged from my subconscious, ‘One playful swipe from a five month old cub can cause some serious damage’.
I start to panic and remember all too well ‘they can smell fear and prey on the vulnerable’ warning as I ponder a grizzly mauling. Desperately, I try to channel Joy Adamson’s persona to gain control and confidence. It’s useless but luckily the capable guide springs into action and calmly motions me to put my stick across his scary incisors to prevent serious injury.
The adrenalin surge causes a wild hunger and luckily, back at the lodge, there is a hearty, cooked breakfast waiting for us in the open air viewing deck. After refreshing the palate with a platter of cold tropical fruit, I digested the events of the past few hours. I bet Joy never had a stick for protection. Sipping on freshly brewed coffee and overlooking the fresh African dawn I reflected on my experience of walking with lions and gained a healthy new respect for the continent’s ferocious big cats.