Scared to Death: A Story from Hwange

It was mid-October and the FSP group had been camping in Hwange National Park for several days. The Director Dr. Shephard and the head of the ENVS dept. Ross Virginia had planned a 24 hour game watch at a nearby watering hole for the students. The students were divided into 3 groups and each group was lead by one guide. Our group arrived at our site at 10 am. We were instructed to keep all noise and movement to a minimum so that we could carefully record the number of animals, their species and their movements. The only time we were allowed to raise our voices and hold on conversations was during meal time.

In fact, the sun was beginning to set and we had just finished eating dinner and musing about the day's happenings when it we were interrupted by a deafening roar. Our guide, Gary, immediately recognized the roar as the of a lion's and quietly told us to sit down in front of the land rover and not move. we were outside of the car because we had been eating dinner. We were told that we would attract the animal's attention if we tried to scramble back into the rover. Unfortunately, to my dismay, the guide's rifle was nestled safely in the land rover.

Now, you might be wondering. well, geez, come on you're an environmental studies student! One of the objectives of this fsp is study wildlife!

Well, yes, all of this is true. However, then again you probably have never heard an actual lion roar. The roar that we heard was nothing like the cute lil' yelp of the Time Warner lion that you hear at the start of a movie. This was a deafening roar that echoed through the valley we were in.

As the lion's roars grew even louder we quickly realized that there was more then one. In fact there were four lionesses and about 7 cubs. Our guide quietly warned us that they were particularly dangerous because they would be on the defensive because their young were with them. Gary silenced our whispers and told us to remain motionless.

We watched as the lions quietly crept by us, about 20 feet away from our campsite. I was sitting on the far right of the group next to Ross Virginia. We were the closest to the lions. We watched the lions walk pass us, their cubs plodding behind them. At one point, one of the lioness' paused and looked directly at the group and roared at us. I was terrified and took Gary's warnings litterally and froze. i quietly whispered the holy mary to myself. i'm not exactly religious though and i couldn't for the life of me remember the words so i just kept repeating "holy mary, holy mary, holy mary"

The group soon became restless. We had been sitting and watching for about 30 minutes. Gary had decided that we were in a safer position now that most of the lionesses were further away. He quickly went into the land rover and grabbed his rifle while the rest of us took out our binoculars to watch some cubs that had straggled behind.

I, however, was a little more wary then my classmates. Prof. Virginia offered me his binonculars. I didn't say "no" or actually even turn to look at him. I think the terrified look on my face was enough of an answer.

As the minutes crept by and the distance between us and the lions grew, i became more calm. After about an hour, Gary decided it was safe enough for all of us to climb back into the car and watch the animals from the safety of the rover.

I spent the rest of the night watching and counting animals as they strode to and from the watering hole. I saw elephants, baboons and impala, but fortunately no more lions!

-- Luisa Capasso