Lioness and Leopard

“Allen, don’t make any sudden moves,” B. said, looking up into the tree above us. Africa is that way. Most of the time you have no idea what’s watching you. And what it’s going to do next.

On that morning in Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya, our driver got a message that a lioness and her cub were working on a fresh kill. That’s the kind of thing you’re dying to see, of course – a mama lioness, her face and whiskers pink with blood, teaching her kid about the juiciest parts of a wildebeest. Wanna suck on a sugar bone? Go right ahead, it’s all yours, she says…

Our jeep with its slightly deflated tires turned off the dirt road and slowly made its way across a rocky stretch towards a grove where the lioness was supposed to be. Judging by the fact that there was already a jeep there ahead of us, she was still there. Allen got his two cameras ready and moved his sunglasses to the top of his head. The first jeep pulled away, its passengers looking at us like they’ve won the World Cup and second place is only second made hushing noises.

It was the kind of place where you’d expect for a mom and baby to hide in the middle of savannah, but then again, with waste-high grass, they are safe pretty much anywhere. Hidden by the trees, a cub with furry ears and eyeliner eyes was gnawing on what used to be a hoppity-hop animal a few hours later. When it went for a particularly sumptuous but hard-to-reach part, its snout turned all wrinkles with a wet black nose in the middle. Mom tore a piece off here and there but mostly watched and helped and cleaned him with her rough pink tongue.

As we stood there mesmerized, B. turned around to look at Allen and saw something in a tree above us. As in three meters above our heads.

“Allen, don’t move,” he said, still looking. “There’s a leopard right above you.”

All color left Allen’s face. The leopard, a young one or a cub, was stretched out on a branch, obscured by the greenery, and surveying the kill situation just like we were. Except for it had different feelings about it.

“Oh, so that’s what happened,” said our guide. “It was the leopard who killed the wildebeest and the lioness decided that she wanted it more. So the leopard just walked away. He always likes higher ground.”

Why is the picture of the leopard blurry? Because the lens couldn’t focus that close…

Photo by Allen Widdison

Photo by Allen Widdison


Photo by Allen Widdison

Photo by Allen Widdison


Doom on a Hot Summer Night

flyBefore going to Africa a few years ago, I had numerous concerns. Elephant foot disease. Sleeping sickness. Malaria. Diseases that haven’t yet been discovered.

We stocked up on drugs like we were going to war and were going to be miles away from any field hospital. I committed to wearing stockings, pants and long-sleeved shirts in any weather, even if it meant that my space-suit outfit turned into a sauna on most days. There were lots of things we couldn’t control but being bitten by a mosquito or a tsetse fly wasn’t going to be one of them.

On the flight over, I thought about how so much misfortune could come from something so tiny and how was it that we didn’t bring our own mosquito net.

When we got there, the first thing I noticed in our hotel room was an anti-mosquito aerosol called “Doom.” I thought the name was more than promising and insisted on turning our room into a gas chamber every night while we went to dinner. We’d come back to a faint smell of “Alpine meadows” and dead bodies on flat surfaces.

Then one day we came to a new national park with black and blue flags all around the hotel’s campus. It’s like someone was doing target practice, which after a story about a leopard that liked to drink from the hose at night somehow seemed fitting. It turned out that the flags were actually targets for tsetse flies. The cloth contained a chemical that tasted great but nixed reproduction. The flies didn’t know about it and enjoyed the feast and the fun.

But I wasn’t content with just waiting for them to go extinct. On a drive through the park one afternoon, I realized that our jeep was filled with tsetse flies, their stingers out like little swards. We’re not talking about the little, delicate looking organs of our normal house flies. Did you ever have to get your finger pricked for a blood test? If yes, do you remember the metal stabber with a sharp edge that the nurse had too much fun jamming into your fingertip? That’s what tsetse flies have. Steel stabbers connected to a deviant brain.

The second I realized what was going on, I grabbed a nylon binoculars case and became a woman on a mission. There was nothing I could do about the myriads of them circling around antelopes and water buffalos, but if they were in the jeep, they were fair game and would be smashed against the windows. I disposed of bodies by returning them back to their natural environment. At the end of the trip, our driver said that they might ban me from the national park for tipping the delicate environmental balance. But we didn’t get stung. And no sleeping sickness (well, napping is another issue).

Last night I was thinking about my obsession again as a lone mosquito buzzed around us in bed. We turned the light on and attempted to kill it because it was impossible to fall asleep with it going round and round like a little jet airplane. We knew that if it landed, it wouldn’t deliver malaria in its stinger and the most we could expect was a nasty welt.  What to do on hot summer night? Do you hide under a sheet and let it win or do you lay there exposed and commit to slapping your most tender parts? “B said. “Where’s Doom when you need it most.”

Nature Tuesday: Three-Headed Giraffe


Three  headed giraffe Masai Mara KenyaThis is not PhotoShop: It’s an actual photo that Allen W. captured in Africa.

These giraffes were super curious, but being on the shy side, hesitant about “sticking their neck out too far.”

This is how it happened: Our guide in Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya had spotted a group of giraffes excited about something (aka a bunch of giraffe heads floating above the tree canopy) and turned off the dirt road onto the golden savanna grass to check it out.

“They are probably mating,” he said.

We got our camera ready, excited now too to see giraffes have sex.

When we got there, it turned out that a couple was indeed trying to accomplish that, which wasn’t not an easy fit when you have such long legs and a shifting center of gravity.

But that’s not what had captured their friends’ attention. Three men had gotten out of their truck and were trying to fix a water pipe.