The Lions in the Riverbed

Part of the lion pride in the riverbed, with some of the older cubs

I was working at a lodge in South Africa, and the lodge owner’s family/friends were visiting.
So it was a very laid back few days. On one particularly cold and rainy afternoon, me, along with the guests, the lodge owner, and the head guide/tracker all went on a relaxing game drive.
We did not see to much, most animals were hiding away from the cold and rain.
But as we came to one of the dry riverbeds in the reserve, we spotted a white rhino and her calf!
They were on the other side of the river.
There was a river crossing not far behind us, so we turned around quickly and went to it.
We crossed the dry riverbed and drove to area we had seen the rhinos.
They were gone. As if they had simply taken flight and flown away!
At this point, the rain was only a faint drizzle, but evening was approaching.
The head guide/tracker, I cannot disclose his name, who had been in the industry for many, many years and was highly qualified, offered to go on foot to check in the river bed for the rhinos, and maybe he could find where they went and if they were accesible.
This was agreed upon.
Normally, I would have accompanied him, but I knew he had had a particularly stressful day, and guessed he might need some alone time. So I stayed where I was.

He got off the tracker seat, and took off his radio and placed it in the vehicle.
Do you not want to take it? I had asked, and the lodge owner also suggested he should take it, but the head guide said he did not want it to get wet in the rain.
He then started off for the steep edge of the river.
Both me and the lodge owner called after him to take a rifle with him.
As a guide, if you are going to track something out in the Bush, you should ALWAYS take a rifle with you for protection.
You almost never need to use it, because you generally already understand animal behavior well enough, and know how to show wildlife respect, especially dangerous wildlife. 
The head guide denied the rifle, saying he was just going down quickly, and then he would be back. Again, we suggested taking the rifle anyway, but he promised he would be quick.
He walked away into the fading light of early evening, the cold, drizzle of rain splashing off of him, and he disappeared down the steep side of the riverbed.
We waited awhile. The guests chatted away in the back of the vehicle. Everything else around us was quiet.  Only the dripping on rain drops on leaves, and a whisper of breeze in the grass.


It had been quite some time, and I thought, he should really have come back by now. I felt a slight feeling of foreboding.


My ears, as well as the lodge owner’s, suddenly caught a sound further up river.
My heart went cold. It was a sound I knew instantly, but desperately hoped I was wrong.
Maybe I misheard it?
It was like a deep, barking “brah!” type sound.

We quieted everyone.
Silence.
A long silence…

“HEEEYYY!!! HEY!!!! HEY!!!!!” the silence was broken by the sounds of our head guide screaming. He was WAY up river.
In an instant, we started the engine of the game viewer, and flew up river along the bank. There was way down for the vehicle, it was to steep.

As we came towards the screaming and yelling, my eyes fell upon the scene…

Down a small, muddy cliff, and in the sandy riverbed, first I saw the head guide.
He was taking rapid steps backwards, his jacket was off, and he was waving it frantically in front of himself, yelling at the top of his lungs.
Then there came charging at him a ferocious lioness.
Her legs were stiff and she was snarling, her huge teeth bared.
She was not mock charging.
She was charging with the intent to kill. The jacket the head guide was waving at her seemed to be confusing her slightly, just enough to keep her from pouncing and grabbing him.
And then there was another lionness charging at him.
And another.
And another!

Everything was happening in moments, yet it seemed to be in slow motion.
The head guide was in mortal danger, for the entire pride of lions was in that riverbed, and this pride had several sets of new cubs with them. They were going to kill him to protect their young.

I do not know if any words passed between me and the lodge owner. I only remember that we each grabbed a rifle, for thankfully I had brought two with us that day.
I don’t remember much of those moments, but I know that I had the rifle ready to fire in an instant.
I did not feel anything at all. I just knew what had to be done, and that I was going to do it.

We charged down the muddy cliff side as quickly and carefully as we could.
There was lots of yelling from all of us. And the head guide was able to stumble over to us.
We stepped between him the angry pride of lions. Ready to shoot. 
I remember feeling entirely calm in these moments.
I don’t think my heart rate had even increased. I was looking down the barrel of the rifle, into the eyes of one of the charging lionesses, I felt so aware of everything around me. Every sense and every detail was heightened to a point of purity. And felt such a sense of calmness.
I remember, in those few moments that seemed an eternity, I willed the angry lioness to see how much I did not want to do this. Because shooting one of them was something I never wanted to do.
Don’t do it. I remember thinking towards her.

Watchful but calm pride members

And then, they backed down.
They did not want this either, there was the loud, metal “clank” sound of the lodge owner loading his rifle, and this made the lionesses back away, still growling, and go back to their cubs.
All of this happened in seconds. And then the head guide, who was very pale, took the rifle from me. For it was actually his rifle. (Legally, I actually was not allowed to use it, but that was the last thing any of us were thinking.)

Ferocious snarling came from my left side, and all of us whirled around to face another charging lioness.
And I knew her.
She had charged many people before. She had chased one of the vehicles I was in before, jumping at the back. And I had caught her sneaking in the shadows between the tented camp I worked in, trying to sneak up on a client who was distracted by other lions in the distance.
This lioness was very aggressive, and fearless, and she charged at us, while we yelled at her.
She came so close, that I believe she was about to be shot.
Then she crouched down suddenly. Snarling.

Yawning lioness

We tried to edge our way back up the steep bank. I watched her tail, it twitched in an upward motion, which meant…

Another afternoon with some of the pride, relaxing

She snarled and charged again!! 
We yelled again.
She crouched.
Over and over and over, this happened. For every step away we took, she charged.

Yawning. Another time with some of the pride

Twice she came to a point where I believed someone might really shoot her. Then she would crouch once more.
Step by step, she escorted us back into the vehicle.
And as we got in the vehicle, she glared at us, came forward again, but was interrupted by the gentle moaning call of her sisters, calling her back to the pride.

Leading the pride away

With a slash of her tail, the lioness turned and went back to join her pride.

We found the rhinos the next morning…

Everyone was safe.
Also, the rhino mother and her calf had apparently caught wind of the pride of lions, and bolted from the area before we had arrived.
We did see them the next morning, far away from the lions.
And the memory of that encounter remains clear and loud in my mind to this day.
We saw that same pride again later on that night, and the cubs were playing as though nothing in the world had happened.
And those same cubs are now grown up, healthy and capable lions, and powerful members of their mothers’ pride.

An older cub
Proud mother

Watch and Learn

A young cub, watching his mother. He observes every move she makes, knowing one day, he too will become a great hunter.
And meanwhile, this cub’s mother is completely aware that she is being watched. But she does not show off anything. Or even feel self conscious. She remains exactly who she is.

Cheetahs, and I notice most animals in the wild, do not complain or judge themselves or how they are made. They actually seem to take pride in it, and do not change themselves for anyone.
There are two lessons to observe here:


Watching young animals learn is an amazing experience.
Watching them grow, and using what they’ve learned, is even more amazing.
But what is the most fascinating of all, is even when these young animals become adults, they just keep learning…I think this is an important lesson for all of to take into consideration. No matter how old we get, or how experienced we become, we should continue trying to learn.
Trying new things.
There is no learning to much. 

Always strive to watch and observe as the young ones do. I think we should listen more to the young of the world, for they have a wisdom that many of us forget as we age. The young so often have an astounding and honest insight.

And the second lesson is this:

Be proud of who you are. You are strong. You are gifted. You are an individual. And that is good.
You know what is right and wrong. You know how to do the right thing.
Trust in yourself a little more, and learn from your mistakes.
Do not worry so much about who is watching, because you know who you are already.  
No one else can tell you.
This should make us all feel inspired, because if who we are is being watched, then what a wonderful opportunity to give another the chance to learn from us. And then in the same way, let us all be like a cheetah cub, and learn something new every day.

Light, Shadows, and Ostriches

Be joyful. For light casts no shadow.

As night came to an end and the sun lit up the wilderness around me, a group of ostriches came out from the shadows and into the open.
The light of the morning seemed to make them joyful, and the world around them was without danger in that moment.
They could see that in that moment, everything was safe.
Because the sun was gleaming in brilliance over the earth, and all that was before them was clear, and without shadow.

There is a lot of shadow in the world, and I find that this seems to be the main focus of many people. There is so much focus on “what’s wrong”, (the shadows), that it is literally overwhelming. 
Yes, we should be aware of dangers. But should we really be embracing the shadows? Should we allow the shadows of “what COULD happen” to determine how we act in “what IS happening” in the moment?
These ostriches arose as light touched the earth. Of course they were aware of the dangers that are in their world, but they were merely aware of it, they were not focusing on all the shadows alone.
They were joyful. They were enjoying the truth of what light is, of what positivity is.
The light showed them that, in that moment, there was nothing to be afraid of.
But did they gather and say, yes, but there are still so many shadows out there.
No, they embraced the positivity of the moment. They embraced the light.
We should all try to follow the example these birds set, for if a moment is good, enjoy it. 
Feeling joy IS good. You are allowed to feel it, and embrace it.
It does not mean you are disregarding troubles, but it does mean you are not making that your only focus.
Shadows should not be your master. And you do not have to allow them to be.
How amazing is it, that even in the blackness of night, a single star can shine, and it does not cast a shadow?Maybe if we embrace more of the overwhelming light instead of the overwhelming darkness, we might see our own lives as something a little brighter, and maybe, a little bit more joyful.
These ostriches defiantly had the right idea.
I believe wildlife often has so much more to worry about, and to be afraid of, there are so many shadows that they could focus on…but I can’t say I’ve ever seen any animal choose to focus on something negative when something positive was happening.

“Fun is Important.” says cheetah cubs

These little ones are going on an adventure, they are off to enjoy the world, and feel no pressure from anything that might judge them, because they know themselves. And they focus on their own lives.
Having fun, did you know it’s important?
We see so many young animals having fun, despite a wild world they have to survive in. They still take time to enjoy life.


As long as we are alive, we should be LIVING. We are not intended to live our lives in rigidity. No one should ever be afraid or to proper to try, to participate, to take a risk. No one should ever be so concerned about what others will think or say, because, what others think or say is their choice and their issue, not ours.
We have enough to make enough choices about for ourselves as it is, so worrying about what another person is doing or saying or thinking really does not even make sense. Why waste time trying to figure out if someone is judging you? Why try to force someone else to think differently?
Let them make their choices and learn from them. And we can do the same for ourselves.
Do not be afraid to make mistakes.
How many times do you think these little cheetah cubs tried to climb, or to hunt? How many times do you think they made a mistake and failed?
But did they stop trying?
No, they kept trying, and they continued learning from their mistakes, until they finally succeeded.
They did not dwell on what they did wrong, but accepted it, and learned from it.
And then they had fun. They always took time to have fun.
So go forth, like these cubs, and go on an adventure. Just try.
You might fall a couple times.
But you can get back up. Try again. And just have fun, enjoy the journey, and keep going. Because the end of the journey is worth it.

Lions and Relaxing

Relax.

I’ve seen many lions in my lifetime.
Each one is beautiful and made perfectly.
Each one is an individual.
But one thing I always notice with lions, and I’m sure many can agree…they seem to sleep a lot.

On on gorgeous morning patrolling in South Africa, me and my team stumbled upon a lion pride on the reserve. All of the lions were resting in the sun, quite content.


The lion in this picture I took certainly looks very relaxed.
But why?


His life is not so easy. He has to be the protector of his pride. And he has to travel miles and miles, far from home, to keep his territory safe from other lions who, if they can, will fight and kill him, and kill his cubs.
The life a lion leads contains so much danger and fear, and it takes a ton of work every day, and every night to just live.
So again, why is he relaxed?


Lions find time in their day to rest. They take a moment for themselves.
You will never see a lion try and “look busy”, and dedicate every second of his day to “staying busy”.
The life a lion leads is already busy enough without adding unnecessary complications to it, and that type of “busy” accomplishes nothing except adding to stress.


So what this lion, and most all lions, can teach us is this: take time in every day to simply relax.
You do not have to fill every second of the day with “doing”. There’s a difference between simply being “busy”, and actually accomplishing.
Rest is super important, and highly overlooked.
Taking five minutes to relax will probably accomplish more than five hours of “busy” work.
It is very important to take a moment for yourself, for you are not actually able to help anyone until you learn that you must also take care of yourself.

Finding time to rest


A lion knows that if it’s injured, it might have to rest more.
Its not resting because it’s lazy. But it is wise enough to know how important it is to take time for itself to recover.
What good can a lion do for it’s pride if it can no longer stand? What good can it do if it stays busy, but remains injured, and does not rest?
For us, we do not need to “physically” be injured to relate to this. But by refusing to relax, and staying busy without purpose, we are injuring ourselves in ways far harder to heal from.
Take a lesson from this lion, rest, relax, and enjoy those moments. It does not take a lot of effort, and it will accomplish more in the long run.

The Message in the Elephant’s Skin

I was taught during my Field Guide training that an elephant’s skin lacks moisture, and so it needs to be loose to provide the necessary flexibility for motion. And the wrinkles in an elephant’s skin helps to contain moisture, and thus keeps the skin in good condition.

When I took this picture, I wanted to try and show the beautiful complexity of an elephant’s skin in this picture, because seeing it close up really show the details of the wrinkles…

But there is more to it than that…the elephant’s skin, to me, holds a remarkable lesson.

And so in this, I find myself reminded of how amazingly complex and perfect each of our own individual lives are. Throughout our lives, we find ourselves going up and down. 
Some days we walk in a valley.
Some days we climb a mountain. And some days we reach the top of the mountain. 
Some days we try to climb, but we fall instead.
However, whatever trial we might be facing today, every wrinkle in life comes with a purpose.
There is a reason. 

The elephant needs wrinkled skin for moisture and to remain healthy. It’s wrinkles are necessary for a happy life.
Just like the ups and downs, or “wrinkles”, we go through in life, are necessary for our happy lives.

Success

A successful hunt, after a long time with many failures

This was a picture I often scrolled over when going through my photos. It just wasn’t one I thought much of.
But then I took a moment to really study it, and contemplated the memory I have when I took it…
And I realized it holds quite a powerful message: This cheetah is a picture of success.
But this is not the normal, heroic image we have in our minds when we consider what it means to be successful.
Looking into her eyes one sees the struggles and terrors she had faced to arrive in this moment.
This cheetah is haggard and exhausted.
She has pushed herself to the limit…

Preparing for another night.

This is often what true success looks like.
Success takes dedication and effort, it takes much pain and turmoil, and it can take many failures.
It can seem so hopeless and bleak at times. Let’s be honest, bad things happen.
Yet what this picture shows me, and what this cheetah wordlessly tells me, is that through these difficulties we ALL face, we CAN get through it. This cheetah, like most wild animals, had to fight every single day to achieve her goal…which was simply to live.
She often went hungry. She would face the cold nights, the freezing rains, the blazing sun, and the terror of larger predators that wanted to kill her.
But here, depicted in this image, I believe is what victory should be when we have put in the true dedication to reach our goals…we don’t always come out looking like heros with beams of light shining on us…

We carry scars and weariness, but with these, comes a silent declaration of undoubtable power. This cheetah does not speak or boast of her success, because seeing her is enough to hear the story she tells.
And so it should, and will be, for all of us who never give up.

Success that was hard won

The Lion in the Bush

The lion in the bush

It was a cold, dark morning.

The dawn was still far away.

It was only starlight that gave shadows in the bush.

I always started my mornings earlier than anyone else, because I found it was the best way to know the wildlife.
I liked to them from how they arose in the mornings. From the moment they started their day, or ended their night.

Lions coming out in the morning

Amid the mist laden valleys, the low roars of lions filled the cold air.
And based on the general direction, I had an idea of where the lions would be.

So I followed my instincts…
It was still very dark.
But I had a feeling, if I went to a particular place and waited, eventually the light of day would show me what I was certain would come…

I knew could try and follow the calls of the lions alone, and hope to pinpoint where they were, but I paused. Simply reacting to their calls I felt would more likely lead to confusion. The echos were to untrustworthy for exact direction.

So I instead trusted my instinct.
I went to the place…and waited in the silence of darkness.
Birds began to chirp as a pale light touched the horizon.
I hoped I was not wrong.  But perhaps I was? Maybe they would not come at all. And I was waiting for nothing…
But then in the darkness, I saw the eyes.
Not because they were glowing, for I was not using a light.
Only because it is always the eyes that stand out to me first.
An animal in the bushes can be completely hidden, but I always catch the movement of their eyes. There lay the great lion.
As the light of the world increased, I was able to snap this picture of the lion in the shadows.

And then all around came through roars of his pride, and one by one, each lion arose from the hills and shadows, and padded out into the open.

Lions coming out from hiding, calling to each other softly

And such is the glory of this lesson…In the darkest of times, when all around us the answer seems to be to follow the loudest call, we often think it would be much easier to simply react, and fall into the temptations of what we see as “safety”, for that can be such a loud and easy call.
Yet when we arrive, we realize it is not safety or peace.
It is in fact the same shadows as where we were before. 
Sometimes, we need to rather pause, in the darkness, and allow light to come on it’s own, and thus bring clarification. 
We cannot force the dawn to rise. But we can choose to pause.
Simply reacting and running to the first loud call will lead to the lions you cannot see.
But pausing, and choosing your reaction, because it is always your choice, this will show you the lion in the bush.
And then you will know the glory of the lions’ roar, instead of the terror.

Two male lions leaving their hiding place to begin the day

Finding Peace (A Cheetah’s Advice)

At peace.

Taking time with Ava to find peace

I was out one morning, checking up on a cheetah named Ava.

I had come to know Ava so well, I could often find her without even tracking. I knew her well enough to go directly to the area she would most likely be in, depending on the weather, how much she had hunted, and whether or not she had caught anything.

She has always been one of my closest “friends” among the wild animals. Ava probably taught me the most about myself of all the cheetahs I’ve come to know.

When I found Ava, she was lying comfortably in the morning sun. Watching me. She had seen from afar. And having become so accustomed to her, and her ways, I had spotted her from a long ways as well.

I came close. And Ava purred a greeting. As she always did.

It was an extremely peaceful moment. I had Ava’s respect, and she had mine. And so with her, I knew I could squat down where I was, and she would not be bothered. As I did, Ava shifted to a even more laid back position. And for a few moments, we both had our own thoughts. Observing the awakening world around us.


It can be a extremely difficult task to reach a point of feeling at peace with yourself. Especially when, all around, you are constantly being overwhelmed by negativity coming from others or unpleasant happenings and circumstances.
The issue tends to be, we as individuals think we can control others and events.
We think can convince others to change their ways, that if we just keep trying, they will finally listen.
Problem is, no matter how nasty and truly wrong another person might be, we cannot simply change them.
We can’t force them to stop.
We can’t force them to change. 

But that’s not our job anyway. 

This does not mean we have to cease giving guidance and advice where needed, or love. But it’s not our job to just give these things because it’s demanded.
It’s our choice. 
No one should force us to give these things.
So we should never force others to give these things either.
Or to simply change because we want them to.

Finding peace with yourself means you can except what you can do, and what you cannot force to change. Life is going to happen whether you except it or not. But how you live your life, and the choices you make while you live, is ultimately your choice. 

You can make a mistake.
Guess what? It’s actually ok.
Because you can choose to fix it. 

You can be successful too.
And you can choose to enjoy it.
This is also ok. 

My very first morning with Ava

From day one, I observed how at peace Ava was with herself.
There was no action or circumstance that ever had an effect on her. Because she knew herself.
She knew what she could control. And excepted what she couldn’t. When she missed her prey, she excepted the outcome and tried again. 
And it was her choice.
When a new cheetah entered her territory, she faced it, and then they both went their separate ways. 
She excepted the circumstances that could not be changed.
And even when Ava was relocated and released onto a brand new reserve…I will never forget how she stepped out of the crate, took everything in around her…and made her choice to except it.
And keep living.
And to be at peace with it.

The last day I saw Ava, released on a new reserve to begin her final journey as a wild cheetah