When we left camp with the idea of trying to find the Tsalala pride, I had no idea what was in store for us. Tracks had been found heading east south of the river of the three adult females but no youngsters. We knew where the cubs had been left the night before so Bennet Mantonsi (my wonderful tracker) and I made an educated guess and decided to head straight there with the assumption that the females had already made their way back to the cubs. As we came close to Nyeleti Pan, the typical bush adrenalin kicked. The lionesses’ ears could be seen poking up above the morning lit grass. We happily sat watching the three females and four cubs tucked together enjoying the morning sunshine. They were however doing what lions do best…sleeping, with the odd cub attempting to suckle. But, as all who travel to the bush know, things can change in seconds.
Monkey alarm calls. The pride suddenly rises to their feet. Impala start alarming. Two of the lionesses start running in the direction of the alarm calls. Bennet’s excited voice rings through the morning chill, “There is something there, something has been caught!” In no time we are racing after the two lionesses. We decide to go straight to the alarm calls and find what is causing the chaos in hopes of catching whatever interaction is to follow.
We find the monkeys and the impala and as we get close we see a circle of impala standing close together making a commotion. On closer inspection, a young impala is being suffocated by a four metre long python! It is a rare sight to find and what is more fascinating is that this is the third one found on Londolozi in three months, most notably after rangers James Tyrrell and Don Heneyke saw this python devouring an impala a few weeks ago.
Back to the present and the young impala was still kicking when we got there and as it took its last breath we watched in amazement as the two lionesses edged closer. Hissing and growling ensued as the older of the two snatched the python’s hard earned breakfast. Interestingly, the python moved off without any further pursuit from either lions. Cats are generally wary of snakes but it is not uncommon for leopard to try and hunt pythons. I have seen it on more than one occasion and a post was done on it a while ago when Vomba female tried her luck.
It may be that the lionesses were distracted by their unexpected luck of an impala meal but I was rather surprised that they showed no interest in the python at all. Usually predators as opportunistic as lions would at least raise an eyebrow at something like a python, but perhaps they were being smarter than we think. While the poor python slithered out of the way, the older lioness promptly sat and finished the entire carcass. The younger female sat patiently waiting for her turn that never came and while the rest of the pride called in vain, it was only one female who ended up benefitting from the stolen meal.
It is already a special sighting to see a python killing an impala, but then to see it being stolen by lions was mind-blowing and reminds us once again that you never know when and how the bush will surprise you and it is that unexpected magic that makes every game drive such an adventure.
Written and Photographed by: Andrea Campbell
Filmed by: Andrea Campbell and Bennet Mathonsi