Do you ever have a craving for a certain snack and when you go looking for it, it is unavailable? You are salivating for something sweet and all you can find in your pantry is decidedly savoury? You have to change your entire mindset to accommodate that sensation to enjoy what you have, rather than what you wished for. I found myself in a similar situation recently when I headed off to a private reserve well known for leopard sightings. On previous visits to the area, these elusive predators were falling out of the trees in front of my lens. But on this trip…not a SINGLE sighting! So, much like my sweet/savoury snack analogy, I had to enjoy what I did get to see rather than what I had been hoping for.
One of the dangerous game species that are almost as elusive as leopards are the highly unpredictable Cape Buffalo, and getting to spend time with either individuals or large herds is a privilege that I do not take for granted. At least one of these was going play a pivotal role in the next three days.
Luckily, it was a large pride of lions that captured my attention and I was even more grateful to spent time with them over 3 days of game drives. My most recent lion sightings have either involved single animals or at the very most, a limited number of individuals, seen sleeping under bushes or trees. But this pride consisted of 11 cubs and youngsters, ranging in age from 3 to 7 months. 3 enormous females, who were the birth mothers of the cubs as well as 3 males, who between them, had fathered the 11.
My field guide and tracker first found the pride on a fresh buffalo carcass and with so many mouths to feed, it had to be that large as an impala would not have been sufficient or worth the effort.
The cries of the smaller cubs mixed with the grunts and snarls of the older youngsters and the adults as they fought and squabbled over the best parts of the carcass. As the kill was still fresh, there was still more than enough to go round and the individuals would eat and then stagger off with tummies full to lie in the nearby shade.
Of course, the tiniest of the cubs were supplementing the solid food with milk from the mothers who were not happy at being constantly disturbed by being nudged, none too gently, by eager mouths looking for a nipple to latch onto. It was only a matter of time before at least one got annoyed enough to let her true feelings be known and got up to try and find a cub-free area.
We left the pride all panting heavily with swollen bellies, lying in the shade of a thicket not too far from where the buffalo was lying.
We returned to the carcass later that afternoon and, like the lazy cats that they are, the pride was still almost exactly where we had left them. The only difference was that there was less of the buffalo and what remained of the carcass had been dragged closer to where they were lying.
To get the images that I was looking for, our vehicle was between the sleeping pride and their food, which caused one of the males to saunter over to investigate us and then plonk himself down under our rear tyre. Being that close to a large male is intimidating and we all hoped that he would not stay there for the rest of the day. Luckily for us, his full stomach made him restless and he only had time to show us his teeth before moving off to snack on the buffalo remains.
On our final visit to the carcass, we found that the pride had departed and a flock of vultures had moved in and were busy picking the remnants of the meat of the rib cage.
We headed off and before long we found one of the 3 males lying out on an open plain, still with a large belly, but without the females or the cubs to irritate and annoy him. Time out after being such good providers I suppose?
But, as they say in TV adverts, “That’s not all”. Lo and behold, we came around a corner ad found the rest of the pride heading for a nearby waterhole.
We followed them for a short while until they crossed a road that took them into another property where we were unable to follow.
It was an exciting extended series of sightings that I will remember for a long time. I do hope that all of the youngsters survive and go on to become healthy adults with families of their own.
One of the cubs even made it to the cover of a magazine! “I am ready for my close up Mr De Mille”! To download a copy and read the full story on the back page, use this link: https://www.wildlifecampus.com/About/WildlifeCampus_Magazine_October_2021-Vol.10.pdf
And the leopards? There will be another time for them…I hope.
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