Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rampage through Serena Camp

Last night Serena Camp was invaded by a berserk hoard of lions, hyenas and hippos. They charged straight through camp, taking out nearly everything in their path. Casualties of the battle include the kitchen tent, the storage tent, and my (Camille's) tent. Meg and I are stationed at completely opposite ends of camp, so between us we pretty much witnessed the entire disaster: Meg watched the first half through her tent windows, while I got the "full impact" of the end of the fight (haha, I punned... keep reading to the end so you can appreciate it fully).


Since I wasn't able to take photos of this memorable event, let me paint a picture for you. I'm lying in bed. The would-be blackness of the night is infiltrated by moonlight shining through the trees, lighting up the ground and creating eerie shadows throughout camp (okay, not that eerie, but I wanted to make it sound better). It's definitely light enough to walk around without a flashlight. Hippo screaming, hyena whooping, nothing out of the ordinary. Then I hear some MAJOR whooping, and the sound of something large running through camp (think of the sound if I galloped around upstairs and you were in the basement). Then I hear scuffling through the trees. Hm, that sounds big. I perk up and watch through my screen window to try and check out the action. It's like watching an action movie, Mara style. From what I could hear, it sounded like a minor fight was going on in the thicket. I see a couple lionesses/juvenile lions run by, so I run to the opposite side of my tent to look through the other window. Some hyenas run by. Cool.

All of a sudden, a HUGE crashing sound comes from the edge of the thicket: I turn around and look through the window opposite me (I'm now standing in the middle of my tent), and a group of at least 4-5 screaming hyenas are running towards my tent, with at least 4 roaring lionesses chasing them. OH CRAP. After I pause and take in the awesomeness of the situation, I duck down to a crouch (which, clearly, is the right thing to do in this situation. HIDE from the carnivores so they don't see you through your tent screen, duh). In the haste of my ducking I accidentally knock over my pee basin (ahem...chamber pot) and spill my own pee on my tent floor. Oh, GREAT. The beasts knocked IN TO my tent, turned the corner, ran in to my tent again, and kept on running.

The sound of lions and hyenas roaring that close to me with the sole protection of a tent screen was beyond incredible...incredibly scary. From what it sounded like, there were at least 10 lions and 10 hyenas overall, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were more. I stayed ducked down with plans to scurry under my bed until they had cleared the area to the other side of camp, but luckily I didn't have to resort to such action. It seemed they had chased the hyenas away, because most of the lions quietly ran back past my tent and in to the thicket from where they came.

OH MY GOD! WHAT JUST HAPPENED? I finally get up and go back in to my bed. Aside from some more hippo screaming, nothing else happened - at least that's what I thought at the time.


It was around 11:30 or so when the noises started up. I could hear a mess of whooping, giggling and lions roaring, and it was steadily getting louder. Based on the direction of the sounds I thought that something big was happening in our driveway, but I had no idea at the time that Meg was actually in the middle of the fight. Just from the ruckus, I was pretty sure that there were at least 10 hyenas involved, but other than that I was just listening and trying to guess what might be happening. I wasn't worried, since we usually hear things happening just outside camp and we've never had a problem before.

Within a few minutes, it sounded like all the animals were moving closer. I could hear them from roughly the area of the kitchen tent, and started to get a small feeling that maybe things weren't going to go so well. Next thing I knew, I heard a stampede of footsteps charging in my direction. There was a loud crash (which I found out in the morning was the storage tent) and I frantically grabbed for both my glasses and a flashlight. I keep my window uncovered, so I had just enough time to shine the light out my window and catch a glimpse of a big gray shape hurtling towards me. Hippo?! CRAP!!! I flung myself off of my bed and rolled underneath it. Then it felt like the world just came crashing down around me.

For just a few seconds I could hear things falling over, the tent ripping, a hippo screaming, hyenas whooping from all around me... it was chaos! I was in pitch black because I had smacked the flashlight getting under the bed and must have whacked something loose. Then all of a sudden the cacophony passed over me and everthing went crashing away through the trees behind my tent.

I stayed frozen for a while, terrified that they might come back and run over me a second time, but eventually groped around for the flashlight and gave it another smack to turn it on. Then I could only stare. My tent was turned upside down! My chest of drawers had been flung into the middle of the tent, my bookshelf was toppled over, the desk was balanced on two legs and was only upright because the tent canvas had fallen down around it and was anchoring it in place! Everything I had on top of the table or on the shelves had been flung clear across the tent from the impact.

At that point I tried to decide whether or not to get out and get help or at least move to another tent (since Andy's was unoccupied), but I could still hear the lions and hyenas snarling at each other just on the outskirts of camp, and since I wasn't hurt I decided to stay where I was. I also had no clue where my phone might be in all the mess. I yanked the mattress to the floor and eventually managed to get a few hours of sleep, though every sound had me bolting awake in case I needed to take cover again.

Piecing together the events the next morning, it looks like after the lions and hyenas left Meg's side of camp last night, the fight swept through the kitchen tent and then off in the direction of the storage tent. Somewhere between the two tents the stampede picked up a hippo, who was probably just peacefully grazing in camp like the hippos do every night. The terrified hippo got swept along in the chase, the lions and hyenas ran directly over the storage tent, and then I looked out the window and managed to spot the hippo on a collision course for my tent. The hippo ricocheted off of one edge of my tent, smashing the metal supports, and then lions and hyenas ran directly through the middle of my tent and the whole thing came down on top of me.

We took pictures of the damage once the sun came up, and I think it was actually more terrifying to see the damage from the outside. From inside the tent, things were happening so fast that there was mostly a feeling of shock rather than fear. Seeing everything in the daylight just makes you realize how close a call it was.

First, a rough map of their path through camp:

The Kitchen Tent:

The Storage Tent:

Close-up of lion prints on the top of the storage tent:

My (Camille's) Tent:

Door to my tent (I had to belly crawl to get out the next morning):

Lion claw marks (sliced straight through the top of my tent):

Inside my tent:

Marks of the fighting on the ground outside Meg's tent:

Broken support poles from my tent:

Despite the damage to the tents, no one in camp was injured and nothing is irreparably broken. We were really lucky. Here's hoping nothing like this happens again!


Ann said...

Oh my gosh how scary but also how exciting??!! When I was in Kenya I looked forward to going to bed at night just to listen to the Hyenas,Lions, Hippos and what other animals would be out there around the camp.

Anonymous said...

Yikes! Scary but awesome!

I was certain that if camp were ever rampaged it would be by a berserk hoard of elephants!


Kenna said...

Oh man. Totally me, Steph, and Camille's fault though. I remember Meg being so terrified she couldn't sleep in Talek Camp her first night because she heard peaceful elephants grazing near her tent. We jinxed the whole thing by telling her she'd be totally fine and everything leaves tents alone.
Glad you girls and everyone are all ok. Did Philomen cry when he saw the kitchen tent the next morning?

dee said...

I am soooo glad you guys are OK. Sounds like you all did the smart thing by laying low. Let us know how Philomen is doing.

Dana said...

Unbelievable and totally amazing that no humans were hurt. You two are extremely lucky to say the least - especially you Camille - with them running over your tent. Do you think the lions might be from the Mgoro pride? Yikes, I guess tents don't give you much protection.

Leslie said...

Nice to know I'm not the only one to have implemented what I affectionately called "the pee bucket."

Leslie said...

Also, glad you guys are okay. That sounds absolutely terrifying. Nice quick thinking under pressure!

Andy said...

Oh my god. Well, Camille, I guess you're off the hook for not answering my email. This is insane. Can't believe they ran around all the empty tents and trampled the full ones.

Glad you guys are okay. Admit I'm reconsidering bringing my kid there tomorrow - he's so trample-able! But... well, we'll be there.

Jess said...

WOW! I can't believe it! I'm so glad you guys are ok and no one got hurt! Hope everything is salvageable from the tents! I am praying for many a peaceful night for you two in the future!

Camille said...

Philomen was actually on leave when all this happened, but he just got back today and was completely aghast at hearing about all this. He's requested to see all the pictures tomorrow.

Dana: Yes, definitely the Mgoro pride. 4 of the adult females and at least 6 of the juveniles based on what Meg could see. They haven't been hanging out too close to camp recently, but apparently they decided a change of scenery was in order (unfortunately for us!)

Dana said...

Thanks Camille for the info. I presumed it was that pride. We saw them quite a bit in September while we were there. Hopefully they won't visit you all again!!

john said...

What an incredible story. Reminds me of the time I foolishly walked out of the rest camp in Ndumo Park in South Africa at night. My naive intent was to stroll down to the nearby swamp to see nocturnal wildlife. As soon as I got away from the bungalows I was surrounded by the sound of stampeding animals. I was certain that I would be trampled but they were running away from me, not toward me. I felt completely helpless and tiny at the time.

Anonymous said...

What?!? Totally insane. Now that you have survived it, you have a great story to tell around the campfire for the rest of your lives!

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science