Jolted by each bump in the road, my hands gripped the sides of the Landcruiser. I stood with my head sticking out the roof opening as I tried to take in everything; sights, sounds, smells. It was 6:25 AM in Nairobi National Park, and the light was just coming up. Robinson, our driver, had been cruising slowly along when suddenly he slowed, coming to a stop on this narrow road. There, just 50 feet in front of us lay two cats. They were right in the middle of the road and showing no indication of moving. These were no ordinary cats either but two male African lions. Huge felines, maybe 350 pounds each.
Their eyes were alert and their ears pointed forward, listening, but they totally ignored us. Robinson, to my surprise, inched the vehicle along, dropping off the side of the road and pulling up beside them. My eyes were not two-dozen feet from theirs. I stared but they never once looked my way. The brownish-gray fir on their face contrasted with the reddish color at the front of their mane. The long mane hairs gradually became a brown-black along the neck. Subconsciously, I ran my hand through my beard. Their mane was a symbol of their manhood, their status as full-grown masters of the environment. Their size and posture made me feel insignificant.
These were two old males, maybe brothers. They looked thin, emaciated almost. Robinson had told us that hartebeest, impalas, and zebra had only recently moved into this part of the park. The “short rains” of the last month had stimulated fresh grass growth. Perhaps, now they could feed better and put back on weight. Maybe, these two still had a pride or possibly they had been displaced by younger males. Male African lions form a cooperative, usually of brothers, and work together to take over and dominate a pride.
One of them started to groom his paws. The long pink tongue came out slowly and ran over the fir. Those paws were huge, much bigger than my hands. The claws had been pulled back into their sheaths. I leaned against the sides extending as far as possible in their direction, trying to understand my feelings. These guys, like me, were approaching the last phase of their lives. We shared that, the aches and pains that come with an active life. I wondered where their next meal might come from, but also not wanting to see a kill.
They rose to their feet and began to mosey up the road in the direction from which we had come. Their gate slow but deliberate. One had a gray coat, the other brown. They walked side by side like friends, brothers.