Whether they are stalking a buffalo, all shoulder blades and rippling muscles, lethargically padding within meters of the vehicle or even lying flat on their backs with their legs in the air, lions evoke a kind of awe. You may even say they exude a sort of regal arrogance, which has dubbed them with the title, “the king of the beasts”. Experience has taught me differently, however, and in my opinion, we have a very different boss out here.
A few weeks ago I sat watching the Tsalala pride as they lay lazily grooming and lounging in the early morning sun. Not much was happening and we could tell that the furthest they were planning to move was into the closest patch of shade. That was until the boss I speak of, an elephant bull, strolled around the corner behind them and I smiled knowing that we were in for a treat. Immediately his ears came out and he lifted his trunk, drinking in the air, to confirm that it really was his biggest foe, lounging around before him. As soon as he was sure, he accelerated and came charging in the distinctive sprint-walk of an elephant; all ears and legs and gangly trunk but surprisingly silent. One lioness, apparently feeling that unexplainable sensation you get when someone is watching you from a distance, or maybe feeling the ground reverberate beneath her, spun around to see the bulking shape looming. She turned and sprinted, with the rest of the pride right behind her. As if to show the lions that he really meant business, the elephant then went and gored his tusks into the ground and rolled about where the lions had been lying, demonstrating what he had planned to do had he caught one of those unsuspecting pride members. This was the first of three sightings in which I saw elephants chase this pride in the last month and I’ve started to think elephants have it in for the Tsalala lions in particular.
The third sighting happened in the north of the reserve, where the lions were enjoying a peaceful morning after finishing up a small impala carcass. Some of the youngsters were being groomed and were romping around and the scene was relatively calm until the shape of an elephant appeared over the top of a ridge crest. I prepared my guests and we readied ourselves for the show. Once again, the elephant had a run at the lions but this time they chose a fallen over Marula tree as their escape route. The elephant seemed to accept this until the lions began to relax and lounge about on the tree and it seemed the elephant obviously hadn’t done a good enough job of scaring the enemy. He therefore ran in one more time, creating havoc and lions poured off the branches of the Marula, rushed through the clearing and ensured they created proper distance between themselves and the elephant this time.
A few years ago I found the body of a young lion that had been trampled by elephants. From the tracks we could tell that the pride had been sleeping in a thicket, much the same way the Tsalala pride had been, when a herd of elephants happened across them. Because the area was so thick and the herd was large, one of the youngsters became separated from its pride, got trapped in the chaos and was killed as a result. Although, the Tsalala pride got away in this particular situation, this battle between two of Africa’s greatest beasts serves as a swift reminder to all of us, that arrogance and nonchalance have no place out here in the bush. As wildlife photographer, Heinrich van den Berg has written, “royalty runs the risk of losing not only perspective. Many a life and tail have been sacrificed for the sensation of authority”.
Written and Photographed by: Amy Attenborough