Not long ago, ranger Chris Taylor and I set out with our guests with no real goal in mind. We’d had a fantastic series of sightings and our two-vehicle team was happy to just see what popped up. Well, that was decided very quickly as we found a pair of lionesses resting on the airstrip not three minutes out of camp, the sun had not even risen yet! The raised airstrip allowed us to sit at eye level with the two young females as the first rays of the sun began to paint the horizon with hues of orange and pink, a captivating scene in and of itself, but little did we know how the day would soon ramp up in intensity.
The two lionesses reclined with their forepaws outstretched and heads held high, both with half-closed eyes revealing a sense of contentment, while their twitching ears remained attuned to every subtle sound of the awakening savanna. The sun slowly rose behind the pair who seemed in no real rush to be going anywhere and we decided that we’d leave them to their rest, Chris taking the eastern road and myself taking the western that run parallel to the airstrip.
As we are leaving, tracker Rob Hlatshwayo a.k.a. The Professor’s arm shoots out, “Boet (brother), lion!!” And there just ahead stood a large male lion, eyes glinting as he stared into the rising sun. I radio Chris to let him know and he reveals that he too has just found another male lion, this one with a female.
I know the male we are with is the Skorro Breakaway Male, a relatively new “kid” on the block, as well as a loner, not having ever established himself as part of a coalition as he grew to independence. He has done alright the last few months establishing himself in the unclaimed north and middle western sector of Londolozi. Now this meant Chris was with one of the Ndzhenga Males, the current dominant coalition in the eastern sector! This was about to get interesting.
We turn and see the two lionesses off of the airstrip stretching and yawning, silhouetted against the rising sun, and then begin to approach the male we are with. Through this, Chris keeps us updated on the incoming male and female. We set ourselves up, just off of the centre, allowing where we estimate the pair to crest the rise in anticipation of the two sighting each other.
As the pair meander into view, we turn to see the Skorro Breakaway Male’s muscles tense, his attention sharpened, his gaze locked on the “intruder”. The atmosphere shifts; a charged energy crackles in the air. The Ndhzenga Male spies his neighbouring competitor and he freezes. Time slows as the two lions held their gaze, and in that moment, a silent exchange of dominance and challenge.
And then, as if a silent agreement has been reached, the Ndzhenga Male’s muscles tense, and with a powerful flex, he launches himself first into a trot and then into a gallop. Eyes fixed on the scene of the charging male, we barely even notice that the Skorro Breakaway Male has swiftly come to the realisation that today is not the day he takes on his eastern neighbour and has fled. We see the two lionesses bolting south as the tail of the Skorro Breakaway Male disappears west into the thicket line as the Ndhzenga Male and accompanying female barrel toward the trio.
And then we’re after them. The rev counter on both vehicles lurches into the 4000s as we roar along the road, trying to loop around the impassable thicket and intercept the chaos on the other side. But we’re too late… Or too early, we can’t be certain. The next five minutes is spent in a slow search of the area until we spy several giraffes staring at a specific spot, their gaze unwavering. We follow their line of sight and sure enough, we find the Ndhzenga Male and accompanying Ntsevu Female marching through a clearing. But there is no sign of the Skorro Breakaway Male. This puzzle is soon solved as we hear the male belting out a roar not too far away. We turn expectantly, hoping to see and hear an answering call from the evidently stronger male. But to no avail, it seems the male is satisfied with having chased out the invader and is more focused on the female he is with.
The next half hour is spent watching the mating rituals of the pair as the Skorro Breakaway Male roars a somewhat humourous challenge (given the situation that had just unfolded) from the safety of the river close to a kilometre away.
It was an incredibly exciting morning for us and one that I thoroughly enjoyed, the sight of a charging male lion will remain etched into my memory for some time.