Eyes of a Lioness in South Africa

Lioness Eyes – Photo Credit: Rory Loader

I remember the morning like it was yesterday. At the time, I was working for the world renowned Londolozi Private Game Reserve as a Lodge Manager at Founders Camp where a Big Cat Safari has become synonyms with Londolozi.

We had a honeymoon couple, let’s just call them Mr and Mrs Smith who wanted to do something special and requested to sleep under the stars at the Londolozi lookout deck. Being a romantic at heart, the Founders team and I set up an incredible evening for this great couple.

Just think lanterns, candles, beautiful Londolozi bed, draped in an Out of Africa mosquito net, surrounded by an incredible River view, a finely prepared picnic dinner and an assortment of luxury beverages, not to mention the sounds and the incredible stars, bringing you closer to nature, a spiritual connection. What an incredible evening, little did they know the morning would bring a sighting like no other.

It was awesome to be out so early in the morning, still dark, the air was crisp and I had a sense of excitement about me that I couldn’t quite explain. I set off, following the sand river, passing Taylor’s dam and Pioneer Camps entrance and through open areas to Mhangene Double Crossing to where the look-out deck was situated.

Conversing with Mr and Mrs Smith over the radio I made my way through the giant Jackelberry trees towards the deck where the couple were eagerly awaiting, with big smiles, excited to tell me about their night and how special it was. After enjoying a fresh, hot cup of coffee we all set off back to camp to meet up with their guide Sandros, who would take them out on their morning game drive.

It was starting to get light now with a slight mist hovering over the dewy grass, Impala attentively watch us from the open areas and a chorus of baboons barking in the background alerted us to something incredible.  With limited time, we moved on and followed the sounds, moving closer and closer to camp, we were eagerly followed the barks of the baboons. We had no idea what we would find.

With the barking escalating in volume and witnessing the baboons scrambling from tree to tree to get a better vantage point, we came to a sight that to this day is etched in my memory. Turning the corner towards the Pioneer entrance and the wall of Taylors dam, rightwhere I had driven early this morning, were two of the famed Mapogo Male Lion Coalition, Kinky Tail and Mr T, devouring a sub adult hippo.

These Incredible lions, had successfully taken down an animal 4 times their size with ease and were now enjoying the spoils.  It was an absolutely incredible sighting, positioning the vehicle so the guests could get the perfect shot, all I could hear was the “cha cha cha” of the shutter of Mr Smith’s Canon SLR like a semi-automatic machine gun, mixed with tearing flesh and low pitched growls as the two males fed.

Lion sighting in South Africa

Kinky Tail – Photo Credit: Rory Loader

Calling in the sighting we left to get back to camp to ensure we were able to meet up with the other guests. The lions had a large meal and we knew they would more than likely be there for some time, coming back to visit them later. It’s incredible

We had to warn staff at Pioneer Camp to ensure they were aware of the lions right outside their entrance and to be mindful during the day as the interaction was bound to attract other predators to the scene.

The staff canteen was full of commotion about the lions and the hippo they had killed, so much so that we decided to go out to see how far the lions had got and whether there was another story to be told.

Heading back towards Taylors Dam, to where we had seen the lions that morning, we found not two but now four lions, two lionesses from the Styx pride had heard the commotion and had come to investigate.

It was an unusual sighting, as one of the lionesses you could see was quite skinny and clearly hungry but was not feeding, where the other lioness and older female was feeding alongside the males. Every time the younger lioness tried to feed, the males would aggressively confront her, forcing her to submit and retreat to a nearby bush.  She would try again and the interaction would become more and more aggressive, leading to the flashback Friday image of the lioness bearing her teeth at Mr T. Sheer power seen in both lion’s bodies as they face off each other before the lioness very wisely submitted and retreated.  Why was one lioness accepted and the other not? And what would happen next we all thought!

We would find out that evening, as the often tranquil evenings, was now filled with lion roars, growls and cries, that were so loud I don’t think anyone slept that night.

Investigating the area in the morning, we came across a gory sight, the lions had moved the hippo closer to Pioneer car park, and we could see by the spoor marks, fur and blood throughout the Pioneer car park that a huge fight had taken place that evening and someone had come off second best. But who?

We found out about an hour later over the radio, warning staff that there was a lioness walking through the staff village. The guides moved in to investigate to find the female breathing heavily at Camp Dam, she had been mauled by the two males and was in a bad state. Nature at her cruellest, watching the magnificent animal take her last breath in front of us was very sad. Why had the males killed her? It’s hard to understand the lion dynamics in the Sabi Sands, and ever changing saga, which fascinates us all on a daily basis.

Nothing is wasted in the end, the lioness’s body was later consumed by crocodiles who found her body on the banks of camp dam.

I will never forget the events of that day and it will forever stay with me and all that had the privilege of seeing nature in all her glory.

The circle of life.

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