The lioness throws her head back, nuzzling into the soft spot beneath the chin of her sibling. I am watching the Nkahuma pride of lions; there must be easily twelve or more of them in front of us. It is incredible to witness so many together and as they groom each other we are treated to a wonderful spectacle of tenderness in the wild. Still dozy from sleeping they are slowly rousing themselves to wakefulness, and we find ourselves fortunate witnesses to the heart-warming practice of grooming with affectionate head bumps and slow methodical strokes of tongues against fur.
My eye catches two of the pride still asleep; they are motionless, slightly separate from the rest. They appear to be a bit skinnier than the others. Being smaller, perhaps they didn’t manage to procure as much food at the last kill they all shared.
Questions are fired at our guide, trainee Dean de la Rey. Who is this pride? Why aren’t these ones as well-fed as those ones? When will they next hunt? The separation of the two skinny lions is commented on.
Dean was himself also in a process of a different sort of grooming at the time. James Souchon, a seasoned Ranger, asks some sharp questions about the pride and the scene unfolding before us. Dean is in that sometimes uncomfortable process of learning how best to share his knowledge with a varied group of humans, all with different expectations and prejudices. All of this in a group of his peers is no easy task; we are on a training drive. As a wellness therapist who spends my days camp-bound I am always thrilled when drives like these take place and staff get to go out into the bush for some much needed airing. It is so easy to take this magical bush eden for granted and when I find myself on a vehicle out in the open with the cool spring breeze on my skin, my gaze fixed on the horizon, endless beautiful bushveld being kissed by a vast dramatic african sky at dusk. I inhale deeply and feel myself restored by my breathing, and feel that deep gratitude for this bush life again. Gently my perspective shifts and wonder returns.
At the Healing House we have front row seats to vervet monkeys grooming each other during pauses from their movements. They clamber deftly amidst the labyrinth of branches of Jackalberry trees, the boughs of which form a canopy above us…they lounge together….lazing in some very amusing positions at times with long grey, primate fingers threading through family members’ coats, often lulling each other into a soporific state. This state is familiar I see it everyday in my profession where eyelids grow heavy at slow, steady, caring touch. There is something hypnotic when we watch animals groom each other; something softens inside us as we witness it.
Grooming is inclusive. It grows bonds. It guides us to a pleasurable state of being. Those two young lions seem to me such a poignant reminder of the fruits of isolation; of being tolerated and not celebrated. All creatures under the sun need assistance of some kind to find ourselves in our most shiny healthy state physically, mentally and emotionally. It takes kind hands, warm embraces and even more importantly many words of encouragement.
“Grooming: in its common usage is usually viewed as an exclusively animal activity, but when we drill into the core of it, it’s far more human than we would often care to recognize…