It’s roughly five o’clock in the morning and the Sand River valley has already begun to heat up. The usual chorus of bird calls is interrupted by a deep, rolling roar that echoes across the river. Tracker Life Sibuyi and I glance over at each other – an unspoken agreement that our goal this morning is to find the big male lion responsible for that booming roar.
As we hastily crossed the river and began our search, our thoughts turned to our strategy – male lions on territorial patrols can cover ground exceptionally quickly, and with such a big area to explore, we did not have time to lose. Thankfully, we were joined in our search for this male lion by rangers Pete Thorpe and Rob Jeffery and expert trackers Bennet Mathonsi and Euce Madonsela. `
Before long, the tracking effort was underway with Bennet following the male lion’s tracks and Life and Euce following tracks of the Tsalala lioness and her cub. In a previous blog, Pete tells the story of how the tracks of the mother and cub joined up with those of the male, and once more, we were delighted to find all three lions together.
Once in the sighting we were able to sit back and process what was going on – this Birmingham male had ventured up to northern Londolozi whilst out patrolling his territory and had met up with the Tsalala female and her cub who is most likely the offspring of this very male.
We weren’t able to sit and digest this spectacle for very long because the increasing temperature had now forced the trio to find refuge from the sun. Their selected shelter was the shade of the big Jackalberry trees that line the banks of the Manyelethi River, providing an amazing setting to watch these wild lions interact. The rocks along the river bank made it tricky to get a view so Rob, Pete and I had to do some off-road manoeuvring in order to see them clearly.
After sitting with the lions for a while, the shadows of the big trees began to shift and the lions were forced to move in order to remain in the shade. It was during this shift that my guests, Ben and Steven, and I were treated to one of those once in a life time sightings – the Tsalala female and her cub decided to come and lie in the shade right next to our Land Rover. Having the lions so relaxed in our presence afforded us the rare opportunity to see wild lions so close. Ben and Stephen had just enough time to snap a few photos and absorb the moment before the Tsalala female spotted some Nyalas in the distance. As the lioness swiftly disappeared into the river followed by her cub, the Birmingham male slowly followed behind. We lost sight of the female and the cub as the stalked off into the thicket on the far bank but we were treated to one last view of the male as he sauntered through the massive granite boulders strewn along the dry river bed.
Sightings like this one tend to stand out in my memory among the many amazing things we are privileged to see here at Londolozi. I will remember this particular morning for the fact that we heard this male lion roaring early on and we were able to track him down using a unique set of skills and working with a group of rangers and trackers that are more like brothers than colleagues.
These kinds of mornings certainly don’t come around every day.