The road to becoming an Asilia Guide: The Lion in the Bush
By Stuart Butler
A month ago Asilia Africa invited a person of great intellect to come and sit in on their wildlife guide training camp in northern Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park. Now, please don’t tell Asilia this, but that person wasn’t actually able to make it so I snuck in and went instead. Over the past few weeks I’ve sat in on lessons about the bird life of the African savannah, the ecology and how to run a bush kitchen. The other participants on the course might disagree but I like to think I’ve learnt a lot over the past month, although I’ll grant you that learning how to safely remove a hyena from a camp kitchen may not come in so useful when I get home to France (unless of course the same techniques apply to hedgehogs).
For this, the final week, of the course I was going to learn all about the mammals. Before I came out to Tanzania this was the week that had filled me with the most anticipation. There would be up-close encounters with elephants, there would be bone-gnashing hyenas, their would the chance to stare down full-maned lions. It was, I figured in my innocent bravado, going to be a non-stop, action packed adventure in which I would chuckle in the face of wildlife danger and come out of the course like some kind of Steve Irwin crossed with Rambo. And so the case might have been but for the fact that I’m actually scared of pretty much any animal more ferocious than a goldfish. On my very first night at the gorgeous Oliver’s Camp where the course was taking place, I was woken in the night by a pride of lions clawing at the tent walls. I lay in bed with the sheets pulled up tight over my head (the lions would never notice me like that) for a couple of petrified hours as they paced around and around the tent, brushing up against the side of it and trying to climb up on top of it. Eventually dawn came and I crept outside to investigate. The lions footprints, which even I had to admit were a little smaller than I had expected, were everywhere around the tent and I was clearly lucky to have survived the dark night. Just then one of the guides off the course walked past and I called him over to look at the footprints, “Ohh nice”, he said, “a mongoose has been here”…
Tarangire in the dry season is one of the most spectacular parks in East Africa. The park centres on a couple of vast, permanent swamps and wildlife of all shapes and sizes files into Tarangire from miles around to take advantage of this relative Garden of Eden. There are huge herds of buffalo, thousands of elephants, streams of wildebeest and zebra and an awful lot of very contented lions. However, now is the wet season and this year has been a wetter one than normal. And at times like this almost all the bigger mammals leave the park and spread out across the Maasai steppe to feast on rain-fed new grasses. On the surface this might make running a mammal guiding course in Tarangire seem quite difficult, but in fact it actually means that the guides, both trainee and those on refresher courses, find themselves tested more and when large animals are scarce the guides have to show more skill at tracking and understanding the creatures guests might want to see.
As I followed the guides around an often very water-logged Tarangire I photographed what they got up too.
Follow Stuart Butler on the road to becoming an Asilia Guide
Part 6 – The Lion in the Bush
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