Into The Pride: An Encounter with the Elusive Moremi Lions

This past festive break, SONNY SERITE tagged his friends along on a safari getaway in the Moremi Game Reserve, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful reserves in Africa, and had a close encounter with a pride of eight lions, a dream come true for any wildlife enthusiast.

It has become an annual ritual. For the past five years, my fiancée and I have been holidaying in the majestic Moremi Game Reserve, either on day trips or camping for a few days. If there is something we have in common, it has to be our love for the bush. We are wild about the wildlife. We find flora and fauna so therapeutic; very sanative for a youthful couple that spends the better days of the year on a life of toil in the city.
My fiancée has an insatiable fascination with lions and the dejection on her face every time we go on safari and fail to spot the lions can ruin the holiday. In all the instances that we have been to Moremi Game Reserve, lions have always played elusive within our area of travel, from the South Gate (Maqwee) to Third Bridge right through to Xakanaka. Every time we arrived, we would be told by the wildlife officers, ‘‘mme kana the lions were spotted nearby just yesterday.’’
This past December holidays, when city slickers descended on Maun, we invited our good friends Tirelo Madi and his wife, Latoah, for a couples’ retreat at Moremi Game Reserve where we set up camp at Third Bridge, for three days. It was their first visit and we gladly played hosts and guides. They relied on us for information on camping etiquette: the dos and don’ts of life in the bush. They took instructions from us on whether it was safe to get out of the tent at night or whether it was safe to get intimately loud at night in a territory that is home to some of Africa’s densest concentrations of wildlife. I promised my fiancée that this time, I was going to make sure we locate the ever elusive Moremi lions. She promised a reward for it.
Ninety nine (99) kilometres from Maun we checked in at Moremi Game Reserve’s South Gate. The wildlife officials posted at Moremi’s points of entry deserve commendation for their warm reception and hospitality. They are kind and courteous. They are helpful and useful. They are attentive and always ready to provide valuable information to visitors. They will even respond courteously to silly and ridiculous questions from tourists.
From the South Gate we proceeded to our destination, Third Bridge, with a diversion through the Xini lagoon where we had been tipped a pride of 28 lions was spotted. As always, we were unlucky. We met some safari guides at Xini who told us the lions had been sleeping under the tree very closely to their camp just two hours before we arrived.
Disappointed, we continued with our journey through the sandy road heading to Third Bridge and taking solace in the diverse scenery offered by this gem of a Game Reserve that was, by the way,  in 2008 voted the ‘best game reserve in Africa’ by the prestigious African Travel and Tourism Association at South Africa’s premier tourism fair, Indaba. Moremi Game Reserve, which covers one-third of the Okavango Delta, consists of pans, floodplains, lagoons, grasslands, forests of acacia trees, savannahs and dense mophane woodlands.  It offers spectacular game viewing and bird watching. It is home to all major herbivore and carnivore species in the region, and over 400 species of birds. All members of the ‘Big Five’ are residents.  Both black and white rhinos have now been re-introduced to complete the ‘Big Five’ list of lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo. The rest, such as zebras, giraffes, impala, gazelle, wildebeests, warthog are in abundance, like pests. Hippos can also be seen swashbuckling in the lagoons.
We spent the first day relaxing and enjoying our drinks by the fire after erecting our tents at Campsite 5, owned by the Xomae Group who are in charge of Third Bridge, Baines Baobab and Nxai South Campsites. We deserved some rest after a long, exhausting, yet adventurous drive. The following morning, after a peaceful sleep, otherwise punctuated with croaks of frogs, laughter of hyenas and growling hippos, we set out for a game drive to Xakanaka. The terrain was the ultimate challenge to our 4X4 vehicles as we drove through water, crossing the lagoons and manoeuvring through the intensely sandy road. Just before we reached Xakanaka, we met a safari guide who informed us that a pride of 8 lions had been spotted near second bridge, just 2 kilometres from third bridge, our base. We drove back like maniacs, racing against time to find the lions. I was certain we would find them relaxing under the tree because it was already hot and lions prefer the comfort of shade under the trees when the temperatures are high.
We reached the spot and voila! Eight lions were right there sleeping under the tree. Cameras started clicking and the only words we could muster were endless “wows”.  I can never describe the joy that filled my heart on being able to spot the lions, firstly for my friends on their maiden safari trip and more importantly for my fiancée whose love for these cats at times leaves me jealous and wish to be a lion in my next life. After spending a full one hour with the lions, we decided to leave them in peace as they were now getting agitated and started to express their annoyance and irritation at our presence, more especially when more tourists started arriving for their share of the sheer pleasure of encountering the king of the jungle.
In the evening, our conversation centred on the lions and the tranquil of the Moremi Game Reserve. Birds visited our campsite to pick any crumbs of food that might have dropped on the ground. Monkeys whooped atop sausage trees (moporota) that provided us with shade. Seeing lions was fulfilling. We retired to our tents in a very good mood. I got my reward.
Moremi Game Reserve is the first reserve in Africa that was established by local residents. Concerned about the rapid depletion of wildlife in their ancestral lands – due to uncontrolled hunting and cattle encroachment – the Batawana people of Ngamiland, under the leadership of the deceased Chief Moremi III’s wife, Moremi took the bold initiative to proclaim Moremi a game reserve in 1963. It is the only officially protected area of the Okavango Delta, and as such holds tremendous scientific, environmental and conservation importance.
Moremi is a very popular destination for the self-drive camper, and it was so pleasing to find that many Batswana are starting to visit the reserve in large numbers.  The Third Bridge campsite, my favourite, is situated near the sacred Sekiri River, dressed with thick strands of papyrus, creating lasting memories of resplendent Okavango sunsets.