African Lioness’s Traumatize Justin Lichter On A Day to Remember During His 1500 Mile Trek
This day started out just like any other day. Waking up at 4:30 in the morning, I ate breakfast, packed up my tent and my backpack, and started walking. The morning light was still a few hours away but with the cool air and lack of water, I had to take advantage of this time of day. Finally the sun came up over the tall grass and the flat savannah, so I hiked a bit farther by map and compass and then decided to take a little snack break.
I was about 1500 miles into my solo hike southbound across Africa. I had already hiked across Ethiopia and was almost to the Kenya/Tanzania border. The scenery and terrain had changed numerous times and I was now entering new surroundings yet again. It was sort of like being in the San Diego Wild Animal Park, but without the “Park,” the animals were actually wild, and I was definitely a visitor.
In the past two days I had been seeing water buffalo, giraffes, gazelles, okapi (a big grazer with spirally horns), serval (a cheetah-like animal but a little smaller), and some other animals that I don’t even know there names. I wasn’t really scared of these too much though. After gawking at me, the locals had told me in very broken English and hand gestures that the animals I really needed to watch out for were elephants (their number one fear), lions, and solo buffalo.
The locals never go out anywhere alone without a spear or machete type knife, and never leave their homes at night. I was completely unarmed, alone, and walked in the dark. The locals thought I was crazy.
After about 30 minutes of sitting in the waist tall, golden grass I got moving again. A few minutes later I walked up on a family of elephants that had moved a bit close to me while I was taking a break. I started to alter my way to walk around them and give them a safe distance. Apparently they thought I was a little too close though.
One of the elephants charged at me. I could feel the ground shake with each step. I started to run in zig-zags like the locals had said because the elephants can’t make quick turns since they are so big. The elephant was still gaining on me when I made my second quick cut at one of the zigs.
I didn’t notice it but there was a lion sleeping in the tall grass right there. I spooked the lion and he sprinted off to the left. I cut back right and looked back over my shoulder to see the elephant had decided to charge after the lion instead of me. I ran away a little farther then stood there, adrenaline rushing through my body and breathing heavily and watched the elephant defending its family and chasing off the lion.
I then made a wider girth around the elephants and the lion figuring that I was very lucky to have survived and been able to witness this first hand and hopefully the rest of the hike would go smoothly.
I continued walking the rest of the day seeing buffalo, gazelle, a leopard, hippos, but no more major excitement. I kept thinking about the elephants and the lions and how lucky I was to witness that and to still be alive. I was hoping that after these two incidents in the past five days that the real excitement was over.
I don’t know how many times I replayed that in my head in the remaining hours of the day, but the hours passed uneventfully as I kept walking and the sun was setting so I set up my tent in the tall grass and made dinner.
I read for about an hour in my tent and then decided to look outside before I went to sleep. I shined my battery starved headlamp around (I have a habit of trying to wait until my batteries are completely dead until I change them). A large female lion was sitting in the grass about 30 feet directly in front of me. “Oh crap,” I said to myself. After a minute or two of yelling and shining my light trying to scare it away, it just kept staring at me unmoved.
I then shined my flashlight around the grass around me. I stopped at something moving slowly behind me and about 35 feet away. Another female lion was stealthily creeping up behind me through the grass. They were hunting me!
I grabbed my trekking poles which were laying next to me and started screaming and banging my poles and trying to act intimidating. No response. The cat behind me was creeping closer. I continued yelling and banging and shaking my tent. Nothing…creeping closer from behind and sitting tight right in front of me.
I grabbed my camera and tried to use the flash to scare them. Nothing! The lion was now coming up from behind and only a few feet to my left. It turned its head to the right and glared at me while it walked past me. Then about four feet in front of me it turned and walked directly past me. I tried to flash it again with the camera (which by chance gave me a crazy lion picture), but the lions were still completely un-phased. It continued to walk past me and walked away. The other lion watched it walk away and then decided to join her hunting partner.
I don’t know what happened and why they decided to spare me, but I am not complaining. Amazing!
I didn’t sleep at all that night and decided to change my plans and get out of there after that. My intended route continued and headed into more game reserves where there would be even more animals. On my hike to the nearest road, I saw those same lions eating a buffalo that they had taken down sometime after they came by my tent to say “Hi.”
While I laid awake and restless the rest of the night I came up with a few ideas about the lions choice of meat. They are: 1) maybe they were curious what the heck that was in the middle of their savannah, 2) they decided I was too skinny and not even worth it because they would all be fighting over what little meat I have, 3) they realized that human meat probably isn’t as good as buffalo, 4) they initially thought I was an injured elephant because the Fly Creek color could be similar to an elephant lying down, then realized that wasn’t the case, 5) I don’t know how good their eyesight is but maybe they thought I was bigger than I am because I was standing in the vestibule of the Fly Creek and thought the tent was part of my body, 6) maybe since I didn’t run, unlike every other animal that gets stalked by lions, I threw them for a little loop, 7) maybe I just got really lucky and it obviously wasn’t my time to go.
Luckily that was the end of the excitement, but that will always be a day that I’ll remember.
By Justin “Trauma” Lichter
About Justin Lichter: As you will see in this account of Justin’s walk through Africa, his nickname may follow him throughout his life. Lichter has carved a lifestyle out of adventurous living and walking tens of thousands of miles on several continents. He has traversed the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide trail, and most if not all the Appalachian Trail. Lichter linked up with the folks at Granite Gear and has become part of the family and, by virtue of his constant zest for long-range walking, an expert who test’s and improves upon the backcountry gear he depends on. You can get a deep view of Lichter’s wild land accomplishments and even reach out to him at his website: www.justinlichter.com