I was not one of the guides taken to constantly trying to impress guests through showing them my extraordinary senses or my intimate knowledge of wild ways - but I have to admit that at times the urge was too much to resist, with mostly embarrassing results.
I have embarrassed myself doing the old 'testing elephant dung for freshness test' where you stick your finger into wet elephant dung and when you bring it to your mouth you stick one of your other fingers in. The one and only time I have done it I was involved in my story that I forgot to change fingers and, instead of a clean finger, I stuck the elephant-dung coated one in my mouth.
Many safari guides use the 'sensing or smelling' animals' trick, where they drive out to where lions have been seen and stop and ask the guest if they can smell anything. When they reply in the negative the guide then tells the guests that he can smell the lions - before driving up to where they are lying.
Lions Lying off in the Bush
One memorable, albeit very embarrassing, time that I attempted to use the trick was on s drive in Savute one wet day. Arriving in Savute I was told where the one lion pride of 16 individuals was holed up. They were in a thick stand of apple-leaf trees about 30 meters off the road and during the afternoon drive I headed out to look for them without telling the guests about the sighting.
As we approached the area I slowed down and searched the scrub intently. The tracks in the road were deep so there was no need to keep my eyes on the road. We were moving along at snail's pace, with most the guests looking in the same direction I was looking in, when a loud scream shattered the moment. 'Lions! And you about to ride over them'.
I looked up and suddenly slammed on the breaks. Fortunately the vehicle was not moving too fast as most of the guests in the back were standing up. In the middle of the road was the pride of 16 lions. So acclimatised were they to safari vehicles that they had not moved as the Land Rover bore down on them. The one wheel was literally a centimetre from the tail of the closest one.
I Can Smell Lions
I would often use this example when training guides, in the hope that they, in turn, would not try and impress guests with gimmicks, but the lesson did not get through to them all as I heard a story from guests of the amazing guide at one of the lodges they had visited who could smell lions. When they told me who the guide was I realised that maybe my lesson had given him an idea instead of warning him off.By Leigh Kemp