Locking eyes with a wild lion and living to tell about it — that’s something few people can say they’ve done. But it was a privilege I had while on my safari in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The park’s Ishasha region is known for its tree-climbing lions. Lions don’t normally climbs trees as far as I know, but these do — to escape the buzzing flies hovering low to the ground, and to gain shade from the beating equatorial sun, according to my guide.
One of the things that is so exciting about a safari is that you’re not guaranteed to see the animals. That might sound paradoxical, because you’ve gone on safari to see the animals. But their rarity, and hidden nature, reminded me that these are truly wild animals. This is not a theme park or a zoo.
We encountered the Ishasha lions mid-afternoon, after several hours of driving. Four of them lazily reclined on the horizontal branches of a fig tree, seemingly oblivious to our rumbling van and mumbling voices. My guide, Joseph, identified the larger, collared female lion as Harriet. (Joseph later told me that on one of his other safaris, Harriet decided she was tired of being watched, and had come up to the van and started ramming its side. I appreciate that he told me this story after my lion experience. It was probably better that way.) As we watched the four lions, Harriet stretched and sat up. She yawned, displaying her razor teeth. Between that and seeing the lions’ dangling paws — and hence claws — I had no trouble keeping my distance and following my dad’s joking mandate of “Don’t pet the animals.”