During the winter of 1929 Wac Campbell invited close friends to accompany him on a hunting safari on Marthly, his newly purchased farm in the Lowveld. In those days hunting was the norm and carnivores of all types were considered vermin. Lion were considered one of the animals whose numbers needed to be reduced. In fact in the six years that Harry Kirkman was involved in the management of the area he personally shot over 1000 lions. Bait in the form of an animal carcass was placed in an area frequented by lions. It was then up to the hunter to climb up a tree and sit up all night waiting for the lions to be lured in by the smell of the rotting meat.
Mr P.E. Masters, a sugar estate owner from Natal was in the hunting party of 1929. Mr Campbell showed him an area on Marthly where a number of large trees overlooked a small natural watering hole, an area we now call Marthly Pools! The locals had mentioned that a lone lioness had been seen in the vicinity over the last couple of weeks and that this would be a great spot to set up a ‘sit-and-wait’. Masters selected a particular tree, offering sufficient cover and elevation. Driving steel spikes in to make his climb easier, he then sat alone in the tree armed with nothing but a .375 Holland & Holland rifle, a small torch and a hip flask of whiskey, waiting.
Under a moonless sky the night was pitch dark… After a few hours the lioness arrived to investigate the bait, days of unsuccessful hunting had left her hungry. She was, however, not alone. Behind her were two little cubs who cautiously approached the free meal. Masters hesitated…Something went wrong that night as the lioness spotted Masters perching precariously in the branches of the nearby tree. It is possible that a branch broke under Masters’ weight, disturbing the eerie silence of the bushveld.
Feeling threatened, her motherly instincts took over and the lioness charged. Trying to get her claws into the bark she slashed away at Masters’ feet. He must have been petrified! The sheer weight of the lioness and her lack of agility acted against her. The steel spikes meant she was able to get up a short distance but by then Masters had scrambled into the upper regions of the tree. Fight or flight emotions must have run wild in both their minds. Fortunately for Masters the lioness couldn’t do it; she couldn’t get into the lower fork. In one swift movement, she retreated into the darkness, cubs in tow. She left a terrified Masters shaking in the tree and lots of fur pulled off on the lower two steel stakes.
That was 82 years ago and luckily there is no more hunting in the area. Londolozi is now proudly a sanctuary for all animals. Reserve managers had realised in the 1950s that the lion population was decreasing and that changes needed to be made. In October 1951 the decision was taken that no more shooting from trees or over bait would be allowed and that neither lionesses nor young lions could be shot. Fortunately mindsets started to change as knowledge increased and eventually in the 1960s the hunting of animals in the area was stopped altogether, replaced by shooting with cameras.
I find it amazing how our mindsets have changed and progressed and how our approach to animals, wildlife and ecosystems has slowly changed from an anthropocentric approach to a more biocentric one. Only recently have we started to comprehend that all things are connected and that nature always seeks a delicate balance. When we remove something we artificially throw the balance out of sync, but we cannot forget the past, the lessons learnt and the paths that our forefathers paved for us. Decisions made back then have directly resulted in what we have now. Conversations over the campfires back in the 20s and 30s have all had profound effects on every tree that still stands today.
This is a big eye-opener for us as it drives home that what we do now impacts on our grandchildren Whatever we do is not in isolation. With this in mind we can move forward basing decisions on being custodians of nature and that present decisions must not only be made with the present in mind; we have been gifted with this world and it is our responsibility to pass it on in the same state as we would like to inherit it.
At this moment one of the Tsalala Pride Females is denning with four cubs in some rocks a mere twenty yards from Masters’ Tree. 80 years ago humans climbed this tree in an attempt to kill lions; now we climb it hoping to be the amongst the first to have a glimpse of the precious cubs. To see the lioness move under the shade of this tree is a blessing. In reality, she may be a direct descendant of the lioness that survived that terrifying incident many moons ago. The cubs that ran into the darkness that night were scarred by the image of man who tried to end their mother’s life. Their lineage has continued and a couple of generations later they now accept us. They no longer associate us with danger, they tolerate our presence and we respect them. It is the most amazing relationship that has been developed over the years. It is a fragile relationship on which both sides have to give a bit. We respect the animals and protect their habitat and food and in return they provide us with the rare and special privilege of allowing us a glimpse into their lives for a few hours every day.
We are holding thumbs that the Tsalala Female will be able to hold onto her litter. As we speak, they have been viewed out in the open, playing on the rocks and suckling with from their mother. The rocky outcrop at Marthly Pools bodes well. As for her sister, we believe she must have lost her litter, stashed away on Stweiss Koppie, in early January 2011. Just yesterday she was seen mating with one of the members of the Majingilane coalition. Their mother, the Tailless Female, was seen days ago with the four female sub-adults, all in superb shape. We will, of course, keep you updated with pictures, videos and how the story of these creatures continues to unfold…
Written by: Adam Bannister
Photographed by: Mike Miller