Tuesday started off as a chilly but sunny day, and besides Mbali female leopard being found in the same spot as she has been for the last two days, there was not much about. My drive started off so terribly quietly that I couldn’t imagine that it would turn into one of my most memorable drives ever at Motswari. After having almost no luck for the first half of the drive, I decided I should respond to a sighting of the Sohebele pride, who had moved further south overnight, and were found at the confluence of the Zebenine and the Nhlarulumi riverbeds. I arrived there having seen only steenbok, duiker, and an impala, so when the lions weren’t where they had been left, I was starting to feel the pressure build!
As I drove down into the confluence crossing, we spotted movement on the opposite bank, and the next thing we saw was the sight of two blood-covered lions of the Sohebele pride come running down into the riverbed, and the reason for their haste soon became very apparent when two of the large Timbavati males came rushing in after them! The one Timbavati male stopped in the riverbed and started roaring to proclaim his territory and send a warning to the intruding lions which were still runningfor their lives from the other pursuing male lion! I naturally assumed that the Sohebele pride had made a kill between the time the last vehicle saw them and the time that I found them, so I raced around to try to find the Timbavati male lion that had moved onto the southern bank of the riverbed as he was presumably going back to the kill. We found him and the kill; a large, freshly killed buffalo bull, and I was shocked that the Sohebele lions had killed a buffalo, and immediately felt sorry that the Timbavati males had come in and chased them off it. But it soon became evident, based on the large bellies of the Timbavati males, that the kill was in fact theirs, and that the Sohebele pride were attempting to scavenge a free meal only to have been promptly chased away by the rightful owners of the meal.
The one Timbavati male then wandered away from the kill back down into the Zebenine riverbed, and surprisingly three of the Sohebele lions returned to the buffalo kill to feed! The adult lioness, one young male, and the older of the young females, “Lahleka female” (meaning ‘Lost’ female, so named after she was lost from the pride for two weeks when she was just over a year old). The three feeding lions were very nervous, but hunger drove them to take a huge risk by feeding on the carcass even when they knew the Timbavati males were still around the corner. It didn’t take long for one of the Timbavati males to return and he started sneaking up on the feeding lions, step by step, closer and closer he moved before he charged in…the two females reacted quickest and ran to the east, but the young male was a bit slower and had to face his aggressor head on, and considering the size difference between the two lions, he put up a damn good show and after a brief scuffle with the Timbavati male, the young Sohebele male ran off and got away. Some sounds of sighting were heard in the riverbed below, but it didn’t sound too serious, and before long the adult lioness had returned to feed on the buffalo!
I have never seen this lioness looking so thin, and the prospect of a free meal was clearly driving her to put her life at risk for a few scraps of meat. She carried on feeding as the Timbavati male stalked up to her once again. The Sohebele lioness could clearly see him, and she started uttering low ‘appeasement’ growls, thus showing her subordination to the male, but it didn’t help as he came charging in at her and she had to once again run for cover, but she returned a minute later and lay down to watch the male lion at the kill.
I then got a call from another guide asking if I had my camera with me, and when I said that I did, he told me to come to the confluence crossing quickly. I thought something was up, so I headed over there not quite sure what to expect, but when another guide told me that the news was not good, my heart sank with an all too familar thud…another one of our dear lions had met their tragic end. I was unfortunately too late to capture the shot of a lifetime, but in a way fortunate that I didn’t see Lahleka female being strangled to death by one of the Timbavati males. She had run from the one male at the buffalo kill right into the clutches of another adversary in the riverbed not 80m away. The lionesses body lay motionless on the sand, the suns light no longer reflecting in her lifeless eyes, she was dead.
This scene carried on for much of the morning, with the Sohebele pride so desperate for some sustainence that they kept trying to sneak in a few mouthfuls of food before being chased off again, and with each aggressive encounter, we feared that a similar fatal result would be waiting for them…
And so it is, that in little over four weeks, the Sohebele pride has lost two lionesses, and a whole litter of 6-week old cubs. Will the torture and torment this pride has endured ever end? Or is this indeed the start of the end for this pride? My worst fears have started unfolding, and I can not see how the pride will be able to pull through this series of tragedies. Not even seeing a crash of four white rhinos, yes FOUR rhinos together, nor a herd of elephants was enough to bring happiness to my morning. Don’t get me wrong, it was one amazing sighting, but for such a tragedy to afflict the Sohebele pride once more brings me no joy. All I can hope is that the remaining five lions can prove me wrong and turn their dire situation around, because I know that their will to survive is stronger than my will to keep believing that everything will work out fine in the end…so RIP young lioness, you were a fighter, but sadly this was one fight too many…