Roughing it in a remote, unfenced camp in the heart of Africa's predator-rich Kalahari ecosystem is at the top of the wishlist for many avid eco-adventurers. But sharing your sleeping space with big cats comes with its own, unique challenges. While staying in the Mabuasehube Game Reserve on the Botswanan side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in southern Africa, videographer Robert Hofmeyr and his brother-in-law Andy Caldwell had their tent raided by a particularly bold lion with little regard for personal property:

The duo were planning to do some filming in the reserve and were staying at one of the park's rustic campsites near the main Botswana entrance gate. They'd pitched their tent under an A-frame structure – one of the few amenities afforded to campers in the wildlands of Mabuasehube – and were prepped to wake up before first light to film.

"It was about 6am, it was still dark, we were making coffee and brushing our teeth when I looked up and the eyes of a young male lion caught in the light of my head torch," Hofmeyr explained on YouTube. The pair promptly shuffled to the safety of their vehicle, climbed in and began filming the encounter. Lions are notoriously curious and it wasn't long before this young male found his way into the campers' tent where he began rummaging through their belongings. 

"We noticed that the rear doors of the car were open and, having seen the lion casually entering our tent, we weren’t too keen on the idea of his joining us in the car for coffee as well, so we decided to drive a little bit away, jump out, close the door and then come back, " Hofmeyr wrote. The filmmakers returned to see the lion hauling one of their pillows to a nearby patch of grass where it spent a moment investigating its new 'chew toy'. 

"The lion then decided to taste my sleeping bag ... so we started the car and drove towards the tent which caused him to drop the sleeping bag and move off a bit." As the big cat continued to circle the tent, Hofmeyr drove the vehicle as close as possible to the entrance of the A-frame to put a stop to any further ransacking. "Once the lion realised he was blocked from entering the tent, he went and grabbed my camping chair and ran off into the bushes and chewed that for a while,"  Hofmeyr explained. "Eventually the lion got bored of playing with our things and moved off into the darkness."

It's not uncommon for campers to come into contact with big cats in Mabuasehube. The unfenced campsites are isolated, and with little infrastructure and noise to deter predators, the sites are regularly investigated by prowling lions and hyenas. Water is a scarce resource in this semi-desert ecosystem and a drink can sometimes be found in campsites, either from a blocked drain, a burst pipe or in containers left out by unscrupulous or ignorant campers. According to freelance photojournalist and environmental writer Tony Weaver, humans are most to blame for attracting wildlife to unfenced camps through discarded food scraps and access to water. Although Hofmeyr and Caldwell did not appear to have left any food or water lying around (unless that pillow was packed with midnight snacks), this young lion's behaviour is likely learnt from previous camp raids.

A broken water pipe attracted these lions to a different campsite in Mabuasehube.

Thankfully, most campers who visit Mabuasehube are aware that they need to be self-sufficient and remain vigilant at all times. As hair-raising as the lion encounter was for Hofmeyr and Caldwell, the big cat did not appear at all aggressive and was simply curious. He did, however, show little fear of humans. "What scared me in retrospect, is that I had just happened to look in the direction the lion was approaching from," Hofmeyr stated. "If I had not looked up, or if he had approached from behind the car or tent, we would only have noticed him when he was a couple of metres away. If that had happened, I think I would have run away, which would have been a very bad idea."

Top header image: alcuin lai, Flickr