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Get close to South Africa’s royalty – the King of the jungle.

Panthera leo – the lion. Not only is this awesome beast the king of the jungle, it is the king of the savanna and the African grasslands. And one of the best ways to meet this magnificent monarch is to take a self-drive safari through the Kruger National Park.

Kruger Park is South Africa’s most exciting African safari destination. It covers an area close to the size of Wales and is a haven of wildlife, with 147 mammal species including the Big Five: leopard, buffalo, rhino, elephant and the king – lion.

With a well-developed network of roads and many rest camps, some of which offer accommodation in air conditioned rondavels and cottages, Kruger Park is the place to go for unbelievable animal encounters.

And while you are guaranteed to spot a variety of wildlife during your self-drive trip, many camps offer guided safaris – and even walking safaris. It was during one such walking safari with experienced guides Irving and Promise that traveler and blogger Scott Ramsay got up close and personal with an adult lion male

Lion, Kruger National Park

The king of the jungle is a sophisticated killing machine.
Image from http://bit.ly/1OXXSQH

Scott tells his lion tail – sorry, tale – in his blog post Kruger National park – Lion encounter on foot!

At 5:30am, we had driven from the camp to an area where Irving thought there may be lots of wildlife. Well, the first two hours we saw very little, besides some wildebeest. So we stopped for a snack on top of a koppie, and simply sat and took in the view. In the distance, we saw three bull elephants feeding.

Then to the left, Irving spotted through his binoculars a massive black-maned lion ambling through the woodland. “Great!” Irving said, as if he’d won the jackpot. “Let’s head towards the ellies, and see if we can find that lion.”

This might seem like a crazy thing to do – walking towards a large, powerful, apex predator. Don’t try this at home, kids. And never try this in any game reserve on your own. Luckily the rangers and guides of the Kruger are among the best in the world and know what they are doing. So, if you ever go walking in the wild with a guide in the Kruger, be sure to follow their instructions to the letter. Not only are you bound to experience some incredible animal encounters, but you’ll also make it back home to convince your friends that you’re telling the truth!

The goal, as Irving explained, his eyes intensely focused on the bush around us, “is to get within almost touching distance of the animal, and leave again, without it knowing we are there.”

Now, if you’re already feeling a little nervous just reading this, can you imagine what it must have been like being there?

We first came across the bull elephants, who heard us, but fortunately couldn’t smell us, as the wind was in our favour. They moved off a little. “They probably heard us walking,” Irving explained, “but because there’s a bit of wind rustling the branches and leaves, they’re not sure exactly. That’s good for us with the lion…we can walk close to him, and he may not hear us.”

We walked for several hundred metres, but couldn’t see any lion…and were about to turn around and go back to the vehicle, when Irving dropped to his knees. “Get down, get down!” he instructed under his breath. “The lion…it’s just over there!”

Lion, Kruger

Always assume that a lion is alert!
Image from http://bit.ly/20QomKf

The party had made it close to where the lion was napping under an acacia tree. With his adrenaline at an all-time high, Scott writes that they managed to creep to a bush even closer to the lion without waking him. He took a few photographs of the majestic beast, but then realised that they were in a situation best summed up in two words: what now?

After what seemed like minutes, but was probably only a few seconds, Irving imitated the distant call of a lion roaring…”woooaaa”…”woooaaa”…and immediately, our snoozing, very large lion popped his head up, wondering what on earth was going on. He looked at us, his one eye blind, his mane huge as anything, a bloody scar on his face from a recent tussle…and I thought, “He’s one mean-looking, animal-eating machine.”

I took a few photos, and the stare-down continued, as he looked at us sleepily for several seconds. Then he must have realised that he had been made a fool of, and trotted off away from us, perhaps slightly embarrassed. No charge, no aggression…the relief among the group was palpable.

While extra-special encounters like this do happen in the Kruger, it’s not a daily occurrence. But you’ll definitely notch up more than your fair share of animal sightings – even from your vehicle while driving the well-kept roads of the Kruger. Sightings like that of this king looking for his entourage:

Have we awakened your adventurer within? Then visit www.goselfdrive.co.za today and we’ll help you to realize your dream of meeting Africa’s royalty – the mighty lion.

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