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  Field Notes From
Preying on Giants

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From Author

Dereck Joubert

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From Photographer

Beverly Joubert

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Jenny Song

At an African Water Hole

Field Notes From Author
Dereck Joubert
We have witnessed a number of lion attacks against elephants, so we’re accustomed to seeing that moment when the spark of life leaves the victim’s eyes. The female elephant we were watching had reached that point. She just gave up completely and sank to her knees with eight lions on her. She started to roll over when she heard another elephant in the darkness. Suddenly the life came back into her eyes. She rose up off the ground and started swinging and fighting back. Eventually she got enough strength to get back on her feet, throw the lions off, and run away. She survived! We couldn’t help but cheer. We had a particularly hard time because to follow lions and elephants at night we had to be up the whole night. We started working about 4 p.m. and continued until about 9 or 10 the next morning. We weren’t getting any decent sleep because it was so hot during the day, so we started to feel the fatigue. We were there for 11 weeks, and by the end we were completely bushed and making bad mistakes. There were times when we worked ten nights in a row without any sleep, and very often we ended up nodding off and missing an attack. We’d wake up and find that the lions were already on an elephant. That happened four or five times! After a while we began to lose our memory. Once we were checking through customs and the agent asked our birthdays. We looked at each other because we didn’t know. We had to check our passports. One evening we were sitting in the dark waiting to witness an attack. Elephants were all around, and lions were drinking from a pool of water. When the lions began to move away, we thought they would not be hunting. One male lion in particular went off into the dark. A few hours passed, and we heard the lion calling and coming back. So we got inside our open-door vehicle and prepared to see an attack after all. The lion kept calling and getting closer. Then he came into the vehicle where we were sitting. We’re very familiar and comfortable with these lions, so we just watched him. When he suddenly disappeared from our vision, we thought he had gone off to drink again. Then, in the next moment, he was coming straight at me. He tried to snatch me out of the vehicle! It didn’t make sense because we were just sitting there quietly, but clearly something had happened in the dark that got him riled up. I managed to move my foot and felt his paw brush past it. It’s strange, though. We worked for another three or four weeks with the same lion, and he never did that again. You never know what’s going on in their minds or how to predict their moods.

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