Lion

My companion and I were bumping across the vlei of the Masai Mara in a tiny jeep. Hearing the strangest of hisses above us, we looked up to see a hot air balloon, low and drifting in the morning cool.  “Quick, quick, that way!” pointing back behind them.  We turned off-track and bucked over the hill.  Four lion were just felling a buffalo, jaws closed on the throat, legs kicking, the cats leaping back and forth in glee.  As they settled in to feed, the hyenas circled an exact number of yards from them.  It was a precise circle, as if drawn with a compass and one of those electric fences.  Beyond the hyenas, the jackals circled, again on a precise radius from the feeding lions.

One by one, the lions, sated, wandered away to sleep in the shade.  The last lion, a male, finally took a last couple of gnaws from the pink flesh, and wandered off into the bush for a pee.  The hyenas moved in toward the lion, 1 foot in for every foot the lion left between him and the kill.  It was a precise minuet.

As the hyenas reached the buffalo and, keening, started to.feed, the male lion suddenly started out of the bush toward them – and us.  I was, “oh, shit, oh shit” fumbling for the key in our open jeep, but he wasn’t interested in us.  The hyenas and jackals raced back to their prescribed circle, and the lion took a couple of more licks, but he was only fooling, really, and shortly went off to sleep.  The hyenas took over, the jackals now circling the hyenas, waiting their turn.

At the end of the day of hippos, giraffes, elephants, gnus, and birds of every feather, we stopped by on the way back.  The buffalo was now a rack of bones fathered in shredded fiber, and the whole thing was covered by birds, alive with the ruffling wings, caws, and bobbing heads.  Soon it would be left to the microbes, and the cycle of death would be complete.

We went back to pitch our tent just outside the boundaries of the park, in the yard of a friend of a friend who studied baboons.  After a very interesting conversation on primates over several beers, we retired to the tent.  In the middle of the night, the beers pressing at the other end, I went to unzip the entrance to go outside.  At that moment, I heard the indescribably chesty cough of a lion just outside the tent.  I peeked through the screen window – there were four lion in the yard, checking out the garbage.  Suddenly the tent seemed very small and flimsy, and I placed one knee over the other rather than risk peeing in the direction of a lion.  We awoke again at dawn, when the coast was clear.

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