Antelope Park, Zimbabwe.
You jump into an open-topped safari truck after dark. There are six other passengers, a driver, a spotter and a guy with a red spotlight. About a half mile from camp, you meet up with four full-grown lions; two male, two female. They have been bred at the park and are on the verge of being released into the wild, once they prove they can survive.
There are no other lights but the one red spotlight as you truck off into the pitch-black bush with these four creatures padding silent along with you. You imagine one jumping up and dragging you from the jeep. You'd be dead before anyone had time to react. You notice none of the guides carries a gun. You try keeping the lions in sight as they melt into and out of the bush. At times you could reach out and touch one out the side of the truck. You don't.
The red light does not interfere with the lions' night vision, but it does help in spotting prey. The beam lights up their eyes. You all strain to see those ghostly, shining disks peering out from the tree line.
When the lions scent something they start running and your driver guns the engine, trying to keep up. You duck as thorny acacia branches whip past, scratching at your cheeks and eyes. This is not a road, not a trail, not a path.
The lions have been on alert but now they are functioning as one unit. Without pause, without voice, they split and flank, they sprint and weave. They haven't eaten in five days.
Your truck pulls up to the kill scene seconds after the impala has hit the ground. It is still alive. Thrashing and bleating, it struggles fruitlessly. Your truck turns on the headlights now. A lion does not need night vision to tear flesh, to crunch bones. A fetus spills from the impala's torn belly. It's moving. The sound of feeding increases. Your heart beats harder as two hearts stop.
You feel none of the compassion associated with similar scenes you've seen on National Geographic. Television removes you enough to feel empathy for the prey, to see cruelty in the predator. The revelation tonight is that real life erases those layers and you feel only the thrill of the hunt, and gratitude for being allowed to witness this.
This is a rush like you have never experienced.
(photo courtesy of one of my fellow travelers)