Last week we watched the Mhangeni pride attempt to hunt a warthog, fail, and then try with a buffalo, and fail again. This all happened in one afternoon. They were very hungry when we left them that evening. You could see it in their hips and stomachs; they needed to feed.
Two days later we were tracking a female leopard for about two hours and eventually accepted that we were not going to find her. We had not seen many animals that morning. We turned and drove in the direction of camp and as I was explaining to the guests that “This is the way of the bush” and “when a leopard does not want to be found, it will not be found”, tracker Rob Hlatshwayo suddenly stopped me mid-sentence with a hand signal. He had seen something on the road.
We got off the vehicle, and as I stepped down I could see tracks of a pride of lions in the dust. The road had been driven that morning, meaning that this pride of lions had walked on top of the vehicle tracks at some point between then and now. The lion tracks were heading in the direction of a waterhole. They were fresh.
It was already mid morning and getting hot. We had spent hours tracking to no avail, and now these fresh tracks were presented to us. We knew the lions could already be some distance away if they had been walking quickly. We also had hope that they were close by. Each of us went through an internal debate as to whether we wanted to spend another few hours tracking with the only potential outcome being sunburn…
The decision we came to was to quickly check the waterhole in the direction the lion tracks were heading. Logic suggested the pride had gone to drink there and would be resting nearby.
We drove in that direction and literally as I pressed my radio mic to my lips to update the other guides about the tracks, Rob spotted a lioness standing on the far bank of the waterhole. Everyone in the vehicle was ecstatic and raised a cheer.
We approached the waterhole and as we came around the embankment closest to us we were shocked at what we saw…
Another lioness stood in the knee-deep water, her jaws fastened over the snout of a fully grown male waterbuck! We arrived just in time to watch the antelope take its final breaths. The lioness was covered in water and mud from the struggle. The other lions were surrounding the dying bull; some were in the water and the others were positioned on the banks watching.
Once the lioness was sure that the waterbuck was dead, a younger lioness came to take over as the adult lioness was exhausted. The young lioness dragged the carcass through the muddy water to hard ground to start feeding. She tugged and pulled and managed to shift the 280 kilogram animal by herself! We were speechless.
Once the kill was on the water’s edge, the pride started to position themselves to eat. The lioness who dragged the carcass started to open the kill at the rump and two others started on the belly. The smallest of the lions climbed on top of the waterbuck, not really sure where to start or what to do.
The others started to feed towards the neck and head.
It became a frenzy of feeding. There were powerful outbursts of growling and snarling.
A short while into the feeding an adult lioness stood up and started to call softly. We knew that there were members of the pride missing from the feast: the three smallest cubs. We were on the edge of our seats.
We waited as the lioness disappeared into the bush…
A while later she reappeared with three excited and hungry little bodies trotting behind her. We didn’t know where to look: the growling, snarling, feeding lions or the three cubs approaching, crying out to their mother with hungry excitement.
Either way, we knew the sighting could not get better!
The spectacle continued and we knew how lucky we were to be watching something so raw and beautiful. On the way back to camp, even though my adrenalin glands had been overworked, I felt a sense of calm at the fact that the bush always shows people what they need to see. We had tracked hard for a long time, and in the most unexpected way, the bush had given us our reward.