The first night was filled with sound. The second, eerily quiet. In daylight, my camera focused on a black, white, and red carcass. The sound I had mistaken for hyenas had been zebras alerting the herd of danger. Having felled a zebra the first night, lions were busy feeding on the second. Hence the silence.
As volunteers collecting data for a research study on balancing wildlife conservation with human needs, we were invited to join researchers one pre-dawn morning to track lions. Witnessed: a mother and three tiny cubs in their den; three slightly older cubs straying out to observe us under the wary eyes of two lionesses; and a fourth lioness stalking a warthog as two young cubs mimicked her moves. “A warthog is tea for that lioness. She will not share,” stated a guard. As if listening, the cubs moved forward. In a flash, the lioness reared her head, her jaws and chest covered in blood. Veins distended as her neck extended and she issued a lightning-tempered, deep, resonating growl more frightening than a roar. The cubs backed off, nestled against each other in the high grass (above) and rested until the lioness signaled it was time to go.
In 2014, Earthwatch is conducting lion research at the same location - Ol Pejeta Conservancy on Kenya’s Laikipia Plateau, home to the Big 5 and a magnet for research. Walking with wildlife (in a team, with a guard) will take your breath away. But it's the people - researchers, staff, locals - from whom you'll learn the most.