Harry The Lionheart
Warning : Graphic photos.
Adrenaline pumping, his face alert with excitement and momentary apprehension, Prince Harry reaches out to touch the flanks of a fully grown male lion.
It’s an extraordinary and heartstopping moment, as the fearsome beast – which has been lightly sedated – lies semi-conscious at his feet on a pitch-black night in the African bush.
The Prince is monitoring the animal’s breathing during the vital few minutes needed for vets to carry out tests. Maintaining a commendable calm, he then helps wildlife vets draw blood from the lion for DNA identification, replace a broken GPS collar under its shaggy mane and brand it.
But this is Harry – the ‘Playboy Prince’ – and he soon lifts the tension. With his head torch hanging around his neck he jokingly pulls down his shorts crying: ‘OK, me next!’ before pretending to reach for the red-hot branding iron.
As these exclusive pictures show, Harry, 30, has been living his African dream on a wildlife reserve and, unencumbered by the pressures of public life and paparazzi, has opened up to his companions as he never does in public.
He jokes about what a ‘bad uncle’ he is to his brother Prince William’s and posing for the all-important photographs with baby Charlotte, Harry was standing barefoot in the bush, tucking into chicken stew cooked over the camp fire.
Talking more seriously about his longing to spend more time in the wild in Africa, Harry told his friend: ‘I have to go along with the way my life is, and in many ways I’m very privileged.
‘It’s how things are and I know what I have to do. But I want to spend time out here regularly, it’s become really precious to me and I’m learning a lot.’
Harry, who has also spent time with armed soldiers fighting off rhino poachers from helicopters in Kruger national park in South Africa, added: ‘This is a recce really. I’m taking a lot of new information back home with me for my brother and me to analyse. We’re going to work out a strategy for doing more in Africa and to encourage new conservation initiatives.’
Harry has been playing a full role in the work of a team tracking lions in the remote, 10,000sq mile Palmwag Reserve in Namibia’s north-west Kunene region, where lions, elephants, rhino and leopards roam across vast vistas of desert and scrub.
Having swapped life as an Army Apache helicopter pilot for the sharp end of animal conservation, he has been living his African dream as part of a three-month assignment in southern Africa, where he has joined the campaign against rhino poachers – and he is relishing the freedom.
He is so much in his element that he often goes barefoot and, to the alarm of colleagues who warned him about the dangers of wild animals marauding in the night, he stubbornly insists on sleeping in the open rather than in a tent.
Harry told one: ‘I’ve come all the way to Africa to be free. I’m taking my bedroll and I’m sleeping by the fire.’
The Prince’s encounter with the king of the jungle came after he told his companions – two royal protection officers, two vets, a Namibian police officer, a senior tracker-guide, and Simson – that he desperately wanted to see lions up close and personal in the wild.
Renowned wildlife vet Dr Peter Morkel, a rhino expert, had already spent time elsewhere in Namibia showing Harry the process of painlessly removing horns to save the species from destructive poaching. Now he had brought the Prince to these wildlife-rich lands where local communities have been given responsibility for conservation efforts, including keeping an eye on the lions.
Simson said: ‘We tracked down a pair, one male one female, for him earlier in the day by following the animals’ droppings and footprints. Harry wanted a taste of conservation in the raw and it became a huge adventure.’
Specialist vet Dr Philip Stander used sound equipment to blare out a recording of an oryx screaming, followed by a hyena’s call.
Soon the lions, sensing the imaginary kill, padded into view. Simson said Harry had been continually whispering: ‘Are you sure they’ll come? How can you be sure?’
He knew he would have an important role to play if the animals appeared, said Simson, adding: ‘He was nervous and thrilled at the same time.’
Dr Stander used tranquilliser darts to sedate the animals, and beckoned the others forward. ‘It was rocky and sandy underfoot and we all crept up quietly,’ said Simson. ‘Harry had already been told what to do.’
His companions have warned the Prince that tranquillising large exotic animals is a ‘tricky science’, and to work very quickly before the drug wears off.
Dr Stander said: ‘The male lion’s radio collar had been damaged and it needed replacing. The work had tobe done in a matter of minutes – you only lightly sedate the animals so as not to interfere with their metabolism, and you must work fast.’
He said Harry did not hesitate to crouch down next to the lion and, as instructed, monitor his breathing to check it remained regular while Dr Stander prepared a syringe to take blood.
‘Harry knew what he was doing. He stayed calm and helped to fix the new collar with its studs and buckles.’
In a fleece top with a Walking With The Wounded logo from his time on the Forces charity’s South Pole expedition, Harry later poses proudly beside the lion, his hand resting gently on its head.
Dr Stander lit a small fire to heat up a branding iron and stamped a code number on to the lion’s fur, which prompted the Prince to offer his backside.
As a member of a team of eight, Harry has been enjoying the camaraderie of the tight-knit group and has asked for no special favours, camping with his companions at night and doing his share of the chores, chopping vegetables, preparing meat for the barbecue and washing-up.
Simson said: ‘He was with us for five nights, all spent out in the bush in quite rough conditions.’
Rising at 5.30am with the rest of the team in the camp, he helped to make tea over an open fire or fry eggs, before heading off into the bush.
Simson said: ‘There were no toilet or shower facilities.
‘We got water from a nearby spring and splashed it, cold, on our faces.
‘Harry joined in uncomplaining, and took a bucket of water like the rest of us for an all-over wash.
‘I could see straightaway when I was introduced to him that he was going to be a great companion and a team player. He looks pale and slim compared to some of us, but he is strong and you can tell he’s been military trained. He’s impressive.’
They shared beers around the camp fire in the evenings and, despite serious warnings from Simson, Harry insisted on sleeping under the stars.
‘I told him it would be safer to sleep in his tent. He had pitched it expertly himself and we were all sleeping inside ours. We know that anything can happen unexpectedly – from snakes approaching to insect bites, or an elephant or hyena coming into camp.’
Simson briefed Harry on how to get out of sight and stay downwind if animals approached, saying: ‘That was the least I could do if he insisted on sleeping in the open.’ He added: ‘Of course every time Harry slept out, his bodyguards had to be there too.
‘There was a lot of teasing and joking about him spending his life with them. It was very funny.’
On one occasion, the Prince came face to face with a big rhino bull called Harry. ‘That amused him very much,’ Simson said. ‘Finally Harry met Harry.’