As I entered the gates of Kruger National Park, it took less than a minute to spot a lion. Lions in Kruger are traffic-jam animals – the herd of cars around them being a dead giveaway. I wonder what lions think when their sleep under a thorny tree is disturbed by engine roars and an occasional angry outburst from a tourist whose view becomes abstracted by yet another inching car. I didn’t even bother slowing down. The park is overflowing with amazing, interesting animals that, unlike the lion, actually walk around during the day and not just lay flat panting in the shade of trees and bushes. Them I photograph, enjoying the absence of a whole parking lot of cars to chase me away before I get my perfect shot.
What a snob I have become, turning my sunburned nose away from the king of the jungle, head member of the big five. Only that I’ve seen “the big five” so many times already, they impress me less and less. The phrase “big five” is said to have been coined by hunters and then carried on by game drive guides to describe five of the most dangerous and difficult to kill animals of Africa: lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo. But anybody who has had a chance to step beyond the gates of their lodge knows that the phrase is entirely made up to hype up big and not-so-rare animals to uh and ah over them when you do see them. In truth, only leopard is a bit harder to spot in the African bush. The rest are easily seen in many parks, and most of them will not eat you unless you try to eat them. Not to mention that the number one most dangerous animal, the hippo, which claims a few thousand lives per year in Africa, is not even included in “the big five”.
Nevertheless, lions are to be respected and feared. Kruger is famous for idiot tourists who come out of their cars to get a better look at a pride and then make the front page as colorful photos shot by traumatized-for-life onlookers. As I met with one of KNP’s media coordinator, I soon realized his mind was somewhere else. When asked what was wrong, he told me that earlier that day a friend of his, a ranger, had taken tourists out on a “walking safari” when they encountered a lioness with cubs. The ranger had tried to walk around her, then fired two warning shots, but she attacked him anyway before he had a chance to make another shot. As we spoke, the ranger was in surgery.
Location: Kruger NP, South Africa