The Sparta Pride is making a comeback! There will be more on the current status of the pride in an upcoming post, but for now I simply want to focus on a sighting of them that took place not too far from Londolozi’s camps, after the lights had gone out.
It was a bush dinner.
The camp staff had done a wonderful job in setting up a beautiful location on a clearing near the camps, and all the guests and their rangers had descended on the venue from their various game drives, to drink wine and eat delicious food under star- and lamplight.
As the merriment began to die down and the first vehicles left to head back to camp, Ranger Rich Ferrier’s voice came over the radio, “Any Station at the bush dinner site? The Sparta Pride is heading your way!”
He had found the lions at nearby Fluffies Pan and they were heading directly towards where some of the guests were still enjoying their desserts under the African night sky. Needless to say, everyone piled into the Land Rovers and headed towards the lions to watch and wait as they hunted wildebeest in the black night. There was no moon, it was cloudy and a wind was blowing, making for perfect hunting conditions. The lions were unsuccessful though, and after a long day spent in the bush, droopy eyelids prompted everyone to head home as the pride melted off into the night.
After dropping my guests off at Varty Camp, I thought it prudent to head back to the dinner site, not five minutes from camp, just to make sure the lions had moved off. The smell of boerewors and impala loin from the cooking fires still lingered in the air, and the camp managers and butlers who had stayed behind to clear away the dinner had no spotlights with them. Trundling onto the clearing, I was shocked to suddenly come upon the lions, not 150 metres from where the staff were packing up, completely oblivious to the approach of the pride. Radioing a warning that the lions were approaching, I was relieved to see them (the lions) turn south and begin trotting up the hill towards where I could just make out a herd of impala standing nervously in the inky blackness.
I watched the lions move off and then headed towards the dinner site, parking my vehicle facing out into the night with headlights on and spotlight shining in order to hopefully see better should anything approach. I had not gone 10 steps from the vehicle when the shout of “There they go!” came from Founders Camp Manager Tammy Surtees, as a tawny brown shape came racing low across the spotlight beam. Before I could turn and look, we heard a loud thump from the darkness, just to the side of where the spotlight was shining, followed immediately by a loud bleat of distress. “They’ve hit!” was the cry, and there was an immediate rush to the parked Land Rover. Racing forward in the vehicle and swinging the spotlight into action, we immediately caught the outline of a lion being bucked around about 60 metres away. It was one of the adult lionesses, in the process of bringing down an adult wildebeest cow. As bravely as the wildebeest fought, it was mere seconds before the rest of the pride came hurtling in out of the darkness, having heard the same distress cry we had, to help the first lioness subdue the prey.
With one lion clinging to its throat and another smothering its muzzle, and yet more lions jumping onto its flanks and rump, it wasn’t long before the wildebeest was down, and its struggles soon ceased. With such a large meal, there wasn’t much of the aggression that is usually witnessed at a lion kill. Lots of meat and space to spread out meant that the pride was relatively amicable as they settled down to feed.
We watched them for a good half an hour as they opened up the carcass, devouring muscle, organs and crunching bones.
WARNING: NOT FOR SENSITIVE VIEWERS…
The next morning the pride had moved off, up the hill to a nearby waterhole to quench their thirst. Only a few bones remained. The bones lie less than 100 metres from where bush dinners are conducted, a poignant reminder of the harshness of life in the bush.
Written, Filmed and Photographed by James Tyrrell