Helge Timmerberg's monthly column
© Tim Möller-Kaya

A lesson from the Serengeti


It’s off-season at the lodge on the southern edge of the Serengeti. No rain, no plants, no animals. They’re coming, but they aren’t here yet. Millions of herbivores follow the clouds from Kenya to Tanzania each year. Photos in the lobby show us what to expect: large numbers of gnus, gazelles and giraffes just a stone’s throw away, and big cats too. They stick close to the vegetarians, moving on when they do. Except for a single lioness who stayed behind. She has been sneaking around the lodge ever since, living on who knows what. Chickens? Guest’s garbage? Guests? Lisa and I are the only ones here. We’re staying in an economy cottage about 50 paces from the main house. To our left, more cottages. To our right, the savanna, the acacias, the darkness – and perhaps the lioness. The cottages are guarded by a middle-aged Massai. But he doesn’t have a gun or even a spear. His only weapon is a stick. And good eyes. He peers intently into the night as we pass by. Jumps up. Strides purposefully toward something that has moved in the dark. Everything’s okay when he gets back. I think about this while lying in bed: the Massai striding toward a hungry predator that could have torn him to pieces in an instant, although it looks like the opposite is about to happen … We know it won’t, but the dumb beast doesn’t. She’s a victim of her reflexes. What runs away, gets eaten; what stands still, usually does, too. But what advances aggressively is generally not prey. The Massai’s confidence, purposeful air and look chased her away, not his big stick. What has this experience taught me? Two things: You should always face up to a lion. And: Dominance is key.

Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.