The one thing I love most about the bush, is that no two days, and in fact, no two game drives are ever the same. Each time we set out into the bush, there is every possibility of being surprised.
As a ranger and tracker team, we normally establish some sort of plan before setting out on game drive. This discussion normally involves which areas you’re going to explore, and subsequently which types of animals one might encounter in those areas. Guests are often also involved in these discussions when deciding on where to go, based on what they want to try and look for, ensuring that everyone is a participant in the adventure.
Despite the need for a game plan, it is equally as important to be prepared for the fact that this plan might change, and it often does. Being the wild and natural environment that we operate in, the animals move about irrespective of our arrangements, and this often requires a plan A, plan B, and sometimes even plan C.
On one particular morning, we set out around 5am in search of any sign of leopard in the southern section of the Londolozi. We weren’t 15 minutes into our drive when tracker Euce, raised his hand, instructing me to stop the vehicle. I could tell by the look on his face, and by the urgency of his movements, that he was onto something interesting. After jumping out of the vehicle, and inspecting a series of tracks on the road in front of us, Euce came to the conclusion that they were tracks of two male lions, who had for some reason been running at some speed. The immediate question that came to mind, is whether or not these lions were running away from something, or toward something. In that moment, we knew that our plan was going to change from searching for a leopard, to figuring out where these lions had run to, and what it is that they had been up to.
Veering off course from our original route, we continued to follow the tracks which eventually led us to a scene where absolute chaos had quite clearly taken place merely moments before our arrival. The presence of male and female tracks, scratch marks on the ground, freshly broken grass, and even traces of lion hair, suggested that a fierce battle had taken place between these male lions, and a number of lionesses. Slowly, we began to piece the story together, and we continued to follow further tracks.
We drove through a thicket, which lead to an opening, where Euce and I spotted a single lioness, who from a distance, seemed to be covered in blood. At this point, having just came across the scene of the fight, we could only assume that this female had borne the brunt of the encounter, and was now resting and licking her wounds. Much to our delight, upon closer inspection, we came to realise that this lioness, and two others (Mhangeni Breakaways), had been successful in hunting and killing a young wildebeest calf, which explained the presence of fresh blood. But what about the fight we asked ourselves? What had taken place moments before?
After observing these lionesses for some time, who were visibly exhausted as evidenced by their heavy breathing, we were once again perplexed by the behaviour of these females, who kept looking over their shoulders rather nervously. What were they so anxious about? Who were they looking for? We decided to follow one of the lions, who walked about 500 yards and led us to a second wildebeest kill, this time a fully grown adult. An extra piece of the puzzle which explained their nervous behaviour, perhaps they kept looking back to ensure that no other predator, or scavenger would steal their kill which they evidently worked hard to get. But, with no males visible in the immediate area, it still did not explain the chaotic scene where it all began.
Moments later, another ranger who had joined this incredible sighting, heard a very faint contact call (a call used by lions to locate one another), which indicated the presence of other lions in the vicinity. After heading in the direction of where the call came from, Sandros and Joy, found a fourth female and a single male who appeared to have separated from the other females, potentially to mate with one another.
The fresh kill and overcast conditions meant that the lions continued to feed on the wildebeest for the remainder of that morning, and we made our way back to camp. Still feeling as though a piece of the story was missing, Euce and I went to speak to one of the other trackers who was present in the sighting. Elmon believed that it was in fact a different pride of lions who had killed these two wildebeest, (potentially the Sparta pride who had been found in the area the day before), and that the fight which took place, was as a result of the Sparta lionesses defending their kill from the onslaught of the Mhangeni Breakaway females, and the Matshapiri males.
Without having actually witnessed the fight itself, we are left to surmise what took place before we arrived. Nevertheless, it proved that a change in plan can sometimes end up being a winning strategy out here in the bush and that more often than not, you’ve got to go with the signs and not the assumptions if you want to find the action.