Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Lions and Baobabs. Ruaha National Park. Tanzania.
“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”
Karen Blixen, Out of Africa
Living Among Lions
The electrically patterned leopard, dark brown rosettes seeming to shimmer like mercury on gold, crept through the tall, brittle grass, making for one of the massive baobab trees that so define the Ruaha landscape. A scan with my binoculars caught the carcass of a zebra, dragged hastily into the fork of the tree, about 10 metres above the ground. The pilot waiting to take us away was revving the small plane’s engine at the nearby airstrip.
“Don’t move a muscle, don’t even breathe,” I said to my two companions. We all knew the leopard was headed for the tree. The sun was setting behind us, and as it flung out its last attempt at reddish daylight I set my camera to continuous shutter release, pressed my index finger on the button and as the lithe cat reached the base of the gargantuan tree I fired off 36 frames of Fuji Velvia film. This was one that did not get away, and the best wildlife shot of my life to date.
That was my last image of Ruaha National Park, some 20 years ago, and both that and the park itself have remained my favourites. Today not much has changed other than that while there was then just one safari lodge in the entire park, there are now several, and around that baobab has sprung the park’s Msembe headquarters.
On the other hand, it remains one of the least known and little visited of Africa’s big game parks, and it is not the excellent leopard sightings that have become its biggest attraction …
“Baobabs,” I said with an air of confidence.
“No,” replied Asilia Africa marketing man Dave van Smeerdijk.
No? I was taken somewhat aback. I have known Dave for ages, drank some beers, climbed some mountains together, so when I suggested we visit Kwihala Camp in Ruaha National Park to research the icon of baobab trees, I presumed it would be a shoe-in the door.
“Lions,” he countered. Although the Ruaha landscape is largely defined by the row upon row of those “upside-down” trees, stretching to the far horizon, the park has the largest concentration of lions left in Africa.
“And these ones are real killers,” he emphasized. “Elephant killers.”
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Kwihala Camp while photographing and researching this chapter.
Simply A Camp
There are only a handful of parks left where you can still sense the true wild spirit of Africa. A world vast enough to still feel secure and unsullied. Ruaha is, thank Mother Nature, one such place.
The name Kwihala means, simply, a camp. And that is what Kwihala is, a simple camp in the old safari tradition of how Africa’s wild places are best experienced.
The service levels are high and the camp has a friendly and casual atmosphere, something that is so sorely lacking in many of the luxury game lodges today. There are six spacious, understated but comfortable tents set on a rise overlooking the Mwagusi Sand River.
What stands out most at Kwihala, though, is the exceptionally high standard of guiding. You can go out on game drives or walks, and the highly trained guides plus the sense of space here, evoke the spirit of places like the legendary Mana Pools.
The camp is due for a makeover and a move, to a koppie not far from the current location but in an area better endowed with shade trees and outlook. It is set to become a satellite camp for a new lodge that will be built into and among the koppie boulders, so you will have the choice of solid walls or canvas. And if the new is as good as the old then the decision will be difficult indeed.