The drive started off as any other. Knowing we had the whole day to spend out in the bush takes the pressure off a little and allows you to go for the high risk / high reward options when it comes to looking for game. We decided to cross the Sand River and head north onto Marthly in search of the Tsalala Pride. Although not having been seen for about three days, Lucky and I were confident we would be able to find the two adult females and four three month old cubs that make up this portion of the pride.
On arriving at Nanga pan, close to our Northern boundary, we noticed vutures roosting in some of the dead acacias near the waterhole. On closer inspection, the area was littered with tracks of both the adults and cubs. We noticed a fresh set of tracks of just the two females heading in a northerly direction and soon realised that we were just too late-they had finished the kill and had now left the cubs to go and hunt again. Although we had a good idea as to where the cubs were, they are still too young to be viewed without the presence of the adults, so we moved off with the intention of returning in the afternoon.
It was now about 08:45 and on a normal game drive we may have thought it time to start steering a course towards the comforts of camp, coffee, bacon and eggs. However we were in the specially designed photographic safari vehicle, the weather was cool and we had breakfast packed in the back to enjoy when we pleased. We had heard via the radio that a portion of the Southern Pride, made up of five young males and one young female, had been found following a large herd of buffalo. Despite it being a long drive from the north, time was not an issue and we set off to see what would transpire.
We arrived to find the pride lying on a large termite mound in the shade of a Schotia, keenly eying the herd of buffalo no more than a hundred meters away. Some of the older females and males in the herd were in turn also aware of the lions, holding their noses to the wind and huffing and puffing in discontent. With the pride seemingly happy keep an eye on the herd from the comfort of the shaded termite mound for the forseeable future, we unpacked a breakfast of our own. There can’t be many more unique settings for breakfast than on the back of a Landrover, surrounded by two hundred buffalo and a pride of lion!
After seeing to our appetites we decided to let the lions rest for the time being and headed off to take some photos of the herd, some of whom were wallowing in a small pan nearby. Whilst doing this we soon noticed the bulk of the herd, which had previously been stationary, were now steadily moving off. Suspicious that something was up we returned to see six tawny coloured heads bobbing above the long grass as the pride slowly followed the herd. They then seemed to loose interest and sat again in the shade of a small tree-all except one that is, who continued his march toward the herd. Undeterred by his lack of backup, which was now some three hundred meteres behind, he tore into the herd alone, trying to take down a young calf. Predictably, this didn’t go down well with mom, who promptly chased, tossed and pinned him against what was fortunately a flimsy tree.
With all the noise and commotion, the cavalry from both sides came charging in-the pride sensing the possibility of a kill and the herd returning to help a member in distress. From here it was a chaotic game of tag, with lions chasing and jumping on fleeing buffalo, only for the herd to return and scatter the cats in different directions.
Soon one young male decided he had had enough. Under no immediate threat from any buffalo, he climbed the nearest Schotia tree in that awkward manner that only lions can manage. Another young male then found himself outnumbered and surrounded and was forced to clamber up a fallen tree no more than two meters off the ground. Engulfed by the enraged herd, he put up a defiant stand of growls and paw swipes. Eventually the herd moved off as the rest of the pride approached. He continued to lie in the tree for a few minutes, as if to convince the rest of the pride that he hadnt really run up there beacause he was scared, rather it was just a really comfortable perch from which to identify the weakest buffalo!
Time had flown and it was now 13:00. The lions were a spent force, so we left them to sleep it off and made our way to another of the sightings found on morning drive. The Short Tail Male leopard had been found with an impala kill draped in the branches of a large marula tree. We arrived to find him sleeping soundly in long grass near the tree. We needed some time to let the adrenaline subside, so parked in some shade and waited. We didnt have to wait long for him to get up, stroll straight up to the tree and launch himself into its branches. His movement into the tree had attracted the attention of a nearby herd of impala who frantically raised the alarm.
Unhappy with the unwanted attention, he decided it best to carry the kill back down where he could feed in the long grass, unseen by the impala and close enough to get back up the tree should the hyaenas arrive. On descending however, the head of the unfortanate impala caught in a fork in the tree. He could just reach its rump from the ground by perching on his hind legs and spent the next ten minutes pulling with all his strength to get it down. Showing just how powerful he truly is, he simply tore the entire carcass in half and sat, seemingly very satisfied with himself, feasting on the hindquaters before settling down for another nap.
It was time again for some food of our own and we set off towards the Maxabene River, taking in some beautiful elephant bulls along the way. After a late lunch in the riverbed and with just two hours of light left we headed towards the river, hoping to finally track down the Tsalala Pride and the cubs. On the way we bumped into one of the Maxabene young male leopards and then, not more than two hunred meteres later, the Vomba young female. It’s almost unheard of at Londolozi to spend just five or ten minutes with a leopard but (and I almost feel ashamed to say this!) this is what we did as we continued on north-leaving both leopards probably quite bemused, possibly even offended, by how few photos were taken of them!
It wasn’t long before we found exactly what we were looking for-a fresh set of tracks of the two females crossing the road in the direction we had assumed to cubs to be. On following them in we were greeted by two very fat and full lioness, four very playful cubs, and the remains of an impala ram stashed under the cover of a guarry bush. One of the females then dragged the carcass into the open and lay down and watched as the cubs got stuck in, playfully fighting over the best bits or taking turns in trying the “kill” the impala that with every movement of the carcass (caused by themselves of course) seemed to convince them it was fighting back!
As the light faded we left them to their meal and started heading back to camp to reflect on an amazing day. Any one of these sightings would have been amazing in their own right, but to see it all in one day was truly spectaular. After twelve hours in the bush, you couldn’t have found a more tired, sunburnt yet absolutely ecstatic bunch of people anywhere in Africa.
Written and Photographed by: David Dampier
Filmed by: Life Sibuya