The sun was still hidden below the Eastern horizon as I strolled into the carpark at Varty Camp. As tracker Life Sibuyi and I discussed our plans for the morning, we were interrupted by the sound of a male lion calling in the distance. Fate had decided our intention for the morning’s game drive – find that male lion.
We had barely left camp when ranger Josh Attenborough announced that he had found the Othawa Male lion in the area we had heard the calls emanating from. Shortly afterwards we were with the magnificent male as he marched along the road. He was making a bold incursion into the Birmingham Males’ territory and it seemed as though he wanted his rivals to know as much. One of the Birmingham Males had been calling in the East and the Othawa Male capitalised on the opportunity to move behind enemy lines, maybe in an attempt to expand his territory.
Suddenly his behaviour changed. His swagger was replaced with apparent urgency and he began to run. We raced after him and only caught up to him when he paused to sniff the air. The tension was palpable as we waited in anticipation – what had he smelt? The next second he took off into the bushed we followed him into the thicket. The lion was clearly searching for something.
Not a minute later an explosion of growls went off and a leopard shot up a Marula tree mere meters in front of the marauding lion. The Senegal Bush male climbed high in the tree and stared down at his pursuer in a stated of shock. After a very brief stare-off, the Othawa Male made his way back to the road leaving the Senegal Bush Male up in the tree.
For the first time in about twenty minutes, we stopped to catch our breath and allow ourselves the chance to digest what we had just seen. As we calmed down, so too did the Senegal Bush Male. The leopard repositioned himself in the tree and fixed his gaze on the Othawa Male as he walked off into the distance. Now recovered, we left the still slightly shaken yet unharmed Senegal Bush Male in the tree and went to see what the lion was up to.
By the time we rejoined the lion, his demeanour had changed. He was no longer walking with conviction and his frantic sniffing of the air had ceased. Instead he chose to settle in an open clearing and bask in the warmth of the early morning sun. As we sat with the lion, I heard over the radio that the Senegal Bush Male had made off in the opposite direction and it looked as though he had shaken off the incident and was prepared to carry on with his day. As the morning continued to warm up, the Ottawa Male grew sleepy and we left him to doze off.
Later that morning we reflected on our sighting of the two big cats. Both animals lead very different lives but for a brief moment their paths converged and we were fortunate to watch nature unfold in its rawest form. This exciting interaction reminded me (and the Senegal Bush Male) about how life can change in an instant and gave me a renewed appreciation for the hardships that these wild animals face in their daily struggles for survival.