This week I was fortunate to get out of the office and onto the road again for a few days, and what a few days it was! As has been mentioned on the blog already in the past weeks, this time of year sees the mass birth of a number of species, one of which is the Blue Wildebeest. At the same time, this provides a great opportunity for hunting for both lion and leopard. Not only are the calves smaller and inexperienced, their parents are weakened by childbirth and have the added responsibility of caring for and nursing their offspring.
With this in mind, we set out for drive one morning with the sound of one of the Majingilane roaring not far from camp. It was not long before Dean Smithyman had found the male, along with the five Tsalala females (3 adults and two subadults). With them, were the remains of two wildebeest cows that had been killed during the night. Before long, the calls had attracted another two of the coalition. Now as Adam has noted in previous posts, the Tsalala pride have never been one hundred percent comfortable around all of the Majingilane coalition. On arriving, the Dark Maned male chased the two subadults across the clearing and into the distance. In the meantime, his brothers had claimed a wildebeest carcass each and weren’t allowing anyone else near them!
The most heart-wrenching part about all of this though, were the two wildebeest calves, no more than a week or two old, that were left behind. Not entirely sure of their surroundings, they wandered around the area, obviously searching for their mom’s. Being so young, they were not yet fully aware of the danger posed by the lions, and often ran directly towards them, possibly catching the scent of their mothers. At first the lions seemed not to notice, caught up in managing the dynamics between the pride, the food and the coalition.
It was not long, however, before the wandering calves caught the attention of the lionesses. The proficient hunters that they are, it did not take them long to end the suffering of the orphaned calves. The only problem for them, was that the Dark Maned Male, who was caught up in chasing the subadults and landed up without a meal, promptly stole both kills as they were made and stashed them in a thicket together, where he began feeding. At least the females did seem to have fed during the night, before any of the males arrived.
Teamwork-the third female (oldest tailless) had been waiting for the calf to be chased towards her. Her and her daughter converge on their prey-as one of the males looks on, uninterested in helping considering the meal in front of him already.
A scene like this invokes the whole spectrum of emotions, from adrenalin pumping excitement to sheer sadness (Just look at the expression of Head Ranger Kate Imrie in the background). As always though, death for one means life for another. With the Tsalala females themselves knowing only too well the meaning of loss, hopefully this meal will help sustain them through a potential pregnancy and forthcoming litter of new cubs in the coming months, as well as give the males the strength needed to defend the territory and provide a safe environment for the raising of their offspring.