'TANZANIAN CRATER MADNESS'
BY TIM CLARK
We had only been married for two days when we were charged by three buffaloes in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. It was about 3pm and it was September. I remember the time because we had been discussing the heat. It was the dry season and our guide had told us that, at 3pm, we would be unlikely to see anything other than groups of animals either standing or sitting listlessly in the shimmering heat.
All of a sudden our vehicle went over a slight ridge and there they were – two magnificently maned lions lying by the side of the road. We pulled alongside them and stopped, turning off the engine. The lions, probably brothers, ignored us and continued gazing into the distance. We marvelled from close quarters at their regal appearance. After a few minutes they rose to their feet and started walking lazily towards the vehicle. Our hearts stopped as one passed within a foot of the front and the other within a foot of the back of the car as they set off together into the horizon.
‘A present for your honeymoon!’ offered the guide encouragingly. We agreed, grateful to the lions for interrupting their siesta so that we could see them in motion.
Very soon they had become mere specks in the distance. We were about to turn away and continue our safari when suddenly we were surprised to see a cloud of dust on the horizon. Soon we saw that the lions had not just been wandering idly around the crater for the benefit of a pair of newly-weds, but were hunting a group of three fully grown buffalo, which had been lying down and hidden from view. Surprised by this effrontery the buffalo were slow to react, lumbering to their feet only at the last moment. One of the lions sprung onto the back of one of the buffalo but was immediately shaken off by its immense power. The three buffalo then set off at full pelt with the lions in hot pursuit – directly towards our vehicle.
My memory of what happened next is a little blurred. Out guide was talking fast in Swahili into his radio, my wife was shouting that we should get the hell out of the way, and I was watching the unfolding drama through the view-finder of my hastily retrieved camcorder. At first I had the camcorder at full telephoto capacity in order to pick out the action at long range. Then, as the animals came closer, I reduced the length of the lens. At one point, the largest buffalo stopped and swung round to face, its head lowered, one of the pursuing lions. The lion skidded to a halt, unsure what to do next. Soon however his brother arrived and the chase continued – still directly towards the vehicle. The chase was now filling the viewfinder and I no longer needed the telephoto lens at all. Time seemed to slow down as the buffalo came closer and closer – would I become one of those cameramen who filmed their own death?
I do not have a clear memory of what happened next either, but the video film tells me that, right at the last moment, with the leading buffalo only a few feet from the vehicle, the driver switched on the engine – which fortunately fired first time – and accelerated out of its path. All of a sudden an unsteady picture of the sky replaces a close up of the face of a buffalo, froth around its mouth. There is laughter and shouts of incredulity. It looks for all the world as though the cameraman has been thrown backwards onto his seat and has inadvertently started filming upwards though the open top of the vehicle. The camera work remains groggy as the lens searches again for lion and buffalo now that the vehicle has stopped. Eventually a lion appears, its tale twitching in frustration, looking at the backsides of three departing buffalo. The chase is over and will soon be forgotten by the participants – but it will be a lifetime before the newly-weds forget.
Oh yes, and we have the video to prove it.