When the rangers at Londolozi have a day off, we often take the rest of the camp staff out into the bush to view the animals we are so fortunate to live amongst. It can be frustrating, to say the least, to hear lions roaring at night, be regaled with incredible tales of what was seen on the game drives, yet seldom get the opportunity to see things for yourself, so the camp managers and other staff based mainly at the lodge itself relish the opportunity to get out.
Last week two camp managers, one errant chef, one of our IT specialists along with myself and fellow guide Andrea Campbell, headed out one afternoon to bumble around and see what we could find.
The Tamboti female leopard had been found that morning with two impala lambs hoisted in the same tree, so we decided to head there and see if the leopard might be up the tree feeding. We had barely left camp when Cameron Engelbrecht, trainee ranger, radioed in to say he had found the bulk of the Tsalala pride on a wildebeest kill in the central parts of the reserve. The pride (Tailless female, two young males and the young female) had been chased by the Matimba males earlier in the day, and moving in the midday heat they had obviously found the opportunity to snatch a meal, and the four of them lay gorged in the shade of a marula tree, with a large portion of the kill already eaten .
A minute or so after we joined Cameron at the scene, the Tailless lioness got up and began moving towards a nearby waterhole, most likely to grab a drink, and we decided to follow her there as the photographic opportunities with the rest of the lions was poor. Moving ahead of her to the water, we were excited to find a herd of elephants there first, with a tiny calf in their midst. The calf had still not learnt to use its trunk, so was wading right into the water up to belly-depth, to be able to reach down with its mouth to drink properly.
It was a beautiful scene as mother and calf drank alongside each other, but in the background we could already see the sinister shape of the Tailless lioness approaching from out of the thickets.
Suddenly a cry went up from Sarah Calasse, one of the Londolozi chefs, “What’s that?!”, as a small brown animal came loping up the hill in the distance. At first we thought it might be a hyena attracted by the smell of the wildebeest carcass, but then with a thrill of horror we saw that it was in fact a very young wildebeest calf, almost certainly the infant of the one the lions had taken down only a few hours previously.
The lioness spotted it at almost the same moment we did, and immediately flattened herself into a classic stalking pose. The poor calf, oblivious of the danger lying in wait just ahead of it, continued towards the thicket where the lioness lay. Bypassing the elephants at speed in order to better view the now inevitable tragedy, we came skidding round the corner as the lioness made her run, grabbing the helpless calf in her huge paws and ending its struggles almost instantly with one swift bite to the skull.
As tough as it is to witness the raw and seemingly brutal side of nature, for the calf it was a far better ending than being consigned to starve slowly to death without its mother’s milk. The pride got a little extra meat, sustenance to see them through what continues to be a turbulent time.
The elephant herd meanwhile had caught the scent of blood from the kill, and immediately took steps to protect their tiny calf, ushering it into the middle of the herd before retreating in the opposite direction from the feeding pride.
New life sustained and safe on one side, new life ending on the other. The harsh and often seemingly unfair juxtaposition of life and death in the bush.
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell, Londolozi Ranger
Filmed by Sarah Calasse, Londolozi Chef