I was sitting on the Founders Camp deck with my two guests Marissa and Tammi, planning what we should do for that afternoon’s drive. Tracks of what was suspected to be the Birmingham coalition had been seen on the reserve that morning but the tracks were seen quite late, and no one had found the lions. Having never seen these males myself, I was quite excited by the prospect of finding them and we decided that would be a good plan for our drive. Little did we know that what lay ahead of us would be the most incredible sighting of our lives!
There were a couple of other rangers who had the same idea that afternoon, which was great because that meant we could split up and search that area of the reserve more effectively.
Nick Kleer was the first one to find the lions and we were amazed that they had travelled all the way into the central parts of Londolozi, a long way away from their usual territory. Nick found two out of the four Birmingham Male lions as well as two lionesses from the Ntsevu Pride. They were sleeping out in an open clearing very close to a beautiful waterhole.
The setting was incredible; it was a very hot day, but as the late afternoon sun shone on the sleeping lions a slight breeze picked up, making it just the right temperature to be comfortable. The bush around us was alive with the song of birds and the hum of insects. It was the first time for all of us on the car that day to see the impressive Birmingham males, and as the sun started to dip below the horizon we contemplated leaving to go for a drink and to watch the sunset. Thank goodness we didn’t!
We were lost in conversation, not paying much attention to the sleeping lions when tracker Rich Mthabine suddenly drew our attention to a remarkable scene happening at the water’s edge. A large kudu bull had come crashing through the bush with a hyena in hot pursuit. The kudu had reached the waterhole and turned to face the hyena, unable to go further. It was a very ambitious hunting attempt on the hyena’s part as it was much smaller than the antelope; the hyena wasn’t even an adult yet. Nevertheless, it relentlessly tried to grab hold of the kudu as the antelope had nowhere to run, but to no avail.
On hearing the commotion the lions awoke from their slumber, and catching sight of the interacting and unsuspecting pair, began to stalk them. The lions had a lot of ground to cover and at one point I was certain that the kudu and hyena would notice the advancing cats, as they were completely out in the open as they approached across the clearing.
One male and a lioness were the first two to reach the thicket line close to the waterhole, and were the first to leap into action. They shot through the thicket, taking the hyena and kudu completely by surprise. The hyena made a lucky escape as the lions’ target was the kudu, and we watched in complete astonishment as both lions chased this huge bull right into the middle of the waterhole.
I quickly turned the car on and raced to the water’s edge to get a closer look. The male lion had his paw on the back of the kudu and took a brief moment to catch his breath before he finished off what he had started. It was at this point that I began filming.
The action was far from over though and we spent the next few hours there watching two male lions feed on a submerged kudu, the second male having swum out to join his brother. For lions this in itself was an incredible thing to witness, as they generally do not enjoy being in water as it places them at huge risk from crocodiles and hippos. Luckily for them the waterhole was unoccupied by either on this particular afternoon.
At one point they both got completely spooked and went charging out of the water, but after a while they returned and successfully managed to drag the carcass out to where the lionesses were waiting. Chaos ensued as all four lions tried to feed on the carcass at the same time, with the two lionesses being forced to hold back as the males dominated the kill.
After hearing a third male lion roaring in the area we drove around to see if we could pinpoint where the roars were coming from, wondering if it could be another member of the same coalition. It was, as it turns out, and it wasn’t long before he began moving towards where we could still hear the feeding sounds at the waterhole.
The irony was that earlier in the afternoon as we sat watching the lions sleep, our guests had been asking Rich and I what our most memorable lion sightings had been in all our years working in the bush. We were soon to amend our answers, as the four hours that we had just had around that waterhole on that afternoon was by far the most intense and memorable sighting we will most likely ever experience!