HI, and welcome to my blog! I am a field guide in a private game reserve in South Africa and below you will find stories and pictures of my amazing job!

November 14, 2011

And Then There Were 7…..

            Friday night marked the beginning of one of the most action packed weekends I can remember in my tenure at Sabi Sabi.  There are those of us that enjoy a good action flick at the weekend but what was witnessed over the course of a couple of days rivaled anything that Jerry Bruckheimer can possibly envisage.  In fact, it made his action epic, Bad Boys 2, look more like Dead Poet’s Society!  The leading characters in the recent turn of events were, once again, our resident lion pride.  Those of you that have been following their news on my (somewhat sporadic) blog will know that their trails and tribulations with regard to protecting their offspring have been frequent and many; but last weekend, to quote Bad Boys 2, “sh*t just got real!” 
                The night started off great for our feline friends when the pride managed to kill a female buffalo and calf, once again cementing their reputation as the supreme buffalo hunters in the area. The night ahead promised much feasting and merriment and this was the case until the 2 Kruger males got wind of their plunder.  As is expected, the males quickly staked a claim to the remainder of the carcasses and took little time in challenging each other to an all you can eat contest.  Thankfully for the females and their 9 cubs, they were fully satiated by this time and watched with from the wings, nursing their comically engorged bellies.
One of the Kruger males stripping the last remaining flesh from the jaw bone

All that was left of the female buffalo after one night's feasting

The lionesses could only look on as their meal is finished by the males

                The males have been threatening to dispose of the cubs for some time now but the females have done an excellent job running interference; and when the 2 groups meet, invariably the lure of food seems to quell the males’ blood lust.  Friday night seems to have been no different as we found all 19 lions together on Saturday morning.  While the males guarded the scraps from the growing galleries of vultures, jackals and hyenas, the rest of the pride carried their swollen bodies to the shade of a thicket of tamboti trees.

Procession of fat cubs waddling to the shade of a Tamboti thicket

One cub gives a snarl as he walks passed my land rover

Look at the size of their bellies!!

                All seemed well until late in the afternoon, a breeding herd of elephants happened across the scene.  Notoriously aggressive towards lions, the elephants launched an all out attack on the relaxing pride.  I have only seen video footage from other guides and guests but the herd held back nothing as the air was filled with piercing trumpeting and roars and the ground literally shook as 15 or so elephants barreled after the fleeing lions.  To our horror, a young bull managed to corner one of the cubs and proceeded to thrash at him with his tusks, rupturing his flank in several places, tossing him through the air in the process.  As a coup de gras, the elephant then attempted to kneel on the defenseless cub while the rest of the pride watched on helpless.
                After 10 minutes of chaos, the elephants decided that their point had been made and they disappeared into the bush as quietly as they had come.  After the dust settled, we surveyed the aftermath of the carnage.  The cub, bad injured, was still alive and could even get to its feet but it looked as if his pelvis had been broken and walking was impossible.  In a matter of moments, the cub’s fate had been sealed.  As I have mentioned before, the fact that they have survived to this point is a minor miracle in itself.  The pride rallied round the crippled cub and offered as much support as possible but the female known as Mandleve (the one with the floppy ear to those of you who have seen them in the flesh) decided that this was her responsibility.  For the next few hours, she kept vigil over the cub, attacking any female that tried to come close.

Lioness emerges from the darkness to survey the aftermath of the elephant attack

The pride milling around as nerves settle after a traumatic night

Eventually though, we could see that the pride had become restless and that they were eager to move away from the area.  Reluctantly, the females and remaining cubs started to put distance between themselves and the abandoned cub.  We watched with true sadness in our hearts as the little one was left behind.  The urge to help is great but we know that we are honoured to witness nature unfolding before our eyes and we have no right to interfere in the natural order of things.  Just when we thought things couldn’t get more distressing, we noticed the stealthy approach of one of the males…  At least the cub would be spared a slow death if the male did what his instinct should tell him to do.  Before the male could deliver the death blow however, the cub surprised us all by summoning up its last reserves of energy, finding that little bit extra that we all have in us when faced with life and death.  He sprung up, slashing at the male across his muzzle and growling his most fearsome growl!  The unexpected fight left in the cub stopped the male dead in his tracks and gave the females a chance to react.  Alerted to the situation by the cub’s cries of defiance, the whole pride tore past my land rover and lashed out at the male before he could regain his composure.  Met with such a show of the aggression, the startled male fled to safety.

One of the Kruger males begins his approach to the injured cub

Mandleve rakes her claws across the stunned male's face.
(The pic is a bit grainy nut my shutter speed was at 250 - just shows you the speed of her strike!) 

The next morning we found the pride again, minus 2 cubs now.  The fate of the injured cub is unknown but with all the hyenas around the carcass fighting over the scraps, the inevitable outcome is in no doubt.  The other cub was spotted on Sunday morning far away from the rest of the pride, no doubt lost in the pandemonium of the night before.  Alone and disorientated, his chances of finding his family also look bleak…  The rest of the pride were found some distance from the battle field and were busy engaging in frantic grooming and nuzzling each other, no doubt in an attempt to reinforce the bonds after such a traumatic night.  The males were also lying up close by and it seems that for the time being at least, the remaining 7 cubs will survive. 
Quite why the new males have not killed all the cubs by now is a mystery, perhaps the promiscuous tendencies of the females has been their saving grace.  When no dominant male is present, lionesses have a habit of mating with multiple partners, thereby causing confusion as to who the true father really is.  Whatever the reason, I feel honoured to be witnessing such a story unfold.  Nature is cruel at times and in this job we are given a courtside seat to it being dealt out with no censorship.  Safaris are rated 18 and no matter what your reasons are for coming to experience the African bush, one should be prepared for the possibility of joining the emotional rollercoaster that these animals face on a daily basis.