Note: Image size reduced for ease of Wi-Fi uploads.
I am flabbergasted that there are any prey animals left in this reserve. The predator density at the moment is ridiculously high and the weather conditions have been perfect for hunting. The wind knots have been up and the cooler weather after a few scorching days has resulted in our most sought after animals having a party.
On the same night, a female lioness had killed a kudu bull (a different lioness from the previous blog), five lions had killed a giraffe and the dogs had killed numerous times. It is like a graveyard here and the vultures are having a field day.
With all these kills happening, you would think that amazing sightings would have been easy to come by, yet it took a huge amount of persistence and patience to get the desired result…
It was the second time I had visited this lioness, there she lay, breathing heavily and as flat as a cat could get, unmoved from the previous time I had seen her. The cooler afternoon air still hadn’t stirred her into action, yet the kudu carcass was starting to smell bad. The vultures peered from their perches in envy, wanting to dig into the rotting flesh. I left the scene to go for our sundowner drink realising she wasn’t getting up any time soon, hoping that on my return things may have changed. The sun set and the temperature really dropped, I drove past the carcass and there she was, tucking into the underparts of the kudu. The stench was incredible, but little did she care. We watched and we watched until, with a full, sagging belly that swung below her, she padded (more like waddled!) off into the night to find water. We left her to it and decided to start heading back to camp. Moments later the radio crackled into life, “ingwe on the bamba”. Doing my best Lewis Hamilton impression in the pitch black and on a gravel road I rushed back to the scene. We were greeted by a gorgeous female leopard stealing some of the kudu meat. The cheek of it! She must have been lurking in the shadows, waiting for the lioness to move off. Suddenly she looked up and decided to leave the area, safety first with a lioness around. We followed her parallel to the road, watching as she stopped, licked her paws, went to the toilet and did all things leopard. It was wonderful to see just how two apex predators interact without seeing one another. Everyone seems to think that it is hyenas and the animals not so “beautiful” that scavange, yet little do they know or remember that even lions and leopards will take any meat they fancy if the opportunity arises. At the end of the day, a free meal is a free meal.
The leopard appearing after the lioness was a stroke of luck that was needed at the end of a frustrating day because the rest of the day we had spent sitting with five lions. We visited them on four occaisions waiting for them to feed on a giraffe carcass. Everytime we saw them, the carcass had been eaten and they lay there with bulging stomachs unmoving. Thankfully it was fifth time lucky. There were only a few game drive vehicles out that morning and almost everyone had gone to check the lone lioness. I did the opposite and went to the five lions. As I entered the sighting my road was blocked, two of the males were lying in the road, yet I could just make out that the female was enjoying some early breakfast. There was no way my guests could see her or that I could get any photos. Just our luck. I went through a few bushes to skirt around the males but as I pulled up to the carcass the lioness finished and lay flat on the other side. Great. So we waited. The vultures were becoming more arrogant, they were strutting and sqwaking in front of the car, edging closer to the dead giraffe. They were providing a great side story that entertained us whilst we waited.
Thankfully, only one other vehicle wanted to join the sighting so there was no time pressure. The vultures got too close for the lions liking so both a male and a female gave a half hearted chase to shoo them away. The lioness went and joined the other members of the pride and lay flat with them, unmoving except for the twitch of an ear or the flick of a tail. We waited a while longer. The male was in a playful mood and was strutting around playing with trees and not really settling. I hoped and wished he would have some room in that bulging belly of his. We waited a while longer, my camera was at the ready. After giving chase to a few more vultures the male decided to start his breakfast feast. Finally!! For forty minutes we watched this male lion crunch and chew his way through more of the giraffe. I have no idea how he could fit any more into his stomach but he did. The wave of relief that swept over me was huge, the silence and the smiles on the back of my vehicle proved to me how appreciated this sighting was. It was truly a wonderful thing to see and six hundred pictures later we drove off. The lion had his fill and we left with hearts as full as the lion’s belly.
As many of you will have guessed, when a special sighting is around I become obsessed. So later one evening we returned to the giraffe kill and were lucky enough to spend another forty five minutes with a lioness who was feeding on the carcass. All in all we visited the site seven times but what I was truly reminded of was how sensual these experiences are. It is not just about seeing the lions feeding, it is about the smell of the putrid meat, the growls and gurgles of defiance, the sound of the sandpaper like tongue pulling flesh from the bone, the squaking and squabbling of the vultures, but most of all it is about the overall feeling of being in the most magnificent place on the planet. I compiled over fifteen hundred photos. Here are a few more from some beautiful, well-deserved sightings:
Thankfully we got the desired result in the end and my guests were thrilled by what we saw. It just proves that in nature, patience and persistence really does pay off.