Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A Lions Tail!

Not sure how to start this week’s tale, it has the making of what would be the African bush equivalent of a soap opera, it’s filled with joy, happiness, anger, frustration, betrayal and sadness. It would not be inappropriate if I began, “Like the sands through the hour glass, so are these the days of our lives.”

I was not there for the opening show but joined a few episodes later, so the introduction and setting of the scene comes from what others witnessed and have kindly passed on. It all started last Saturday afternoon, when a fully grown female giraffe was brought down by the two female White Lions alongside the road, if this was not a feat in itself, it again goes to show how powerful and strong these two females are. As is usual with lions and other cats they begin feeding from the anus where the meat is soft and easier to open up the carcass, it is usually followed by them disemboweling their victim and burying the intestines. On this occasion when they came to disemboweling they found a giraffe fetus that was fully developed and must have been a week, if not days, from delivery! This could have been one of the factors that enabled them to bring down such a large quarry being only two lionesses, but being ever the opportunist they began feeding on the baby giraffe as well. By this stage the scene was starting to collect a lot of attention from the many vultures that were drawn in by the prospect of a large meal and bringing with them the ever watchful hyena and observant fellow lion. I was to start driving on the Tuesday afternoon and hoping the White Lions would still be busy on the carcass. That day Elliot returned from morning drive with the news that they were still feeding but there was a twist. Shingalana, the last remaining Sohobele female had approached the carcass and tried to feed alongside one of the cubs, on spotting this the two female White Lions gave chase and caught up with her approximately 250 meters from the carcass, where they proceeded to maul her. This comes barley a couple of weeks after one of the Machaton Females died from injuries sustained from an encounter with these same two females. They left Shingalana in a very bad state and Elliot told me that she was lying out in the open unable to move out of the sun with severe injuries to her hind leg/ groin area and puncture marks around the neck and shoulder area.

The rest of the morning seemed to go on forever but finally the time came to go on drive and see everything for ourselves. On our way we were fortunate enough to bump into Mbali, who we spent some time with, its strange but she seemed to settle my nerves before heading on to the scene that awaited us and I’d heard so much about.

As we approached the sighting the vultures started to become more and more until eventually there was hardly an open branch that didn’t have a tenant present.

On arriving we found the carcass of the adult giraffe out in the open with only one male tawny cub present and the remains of the baby giraffe under a nearby bush. The cub seemed torn between feeding and running around calling out to the others, we followed him back and forth from the carcass down a slope towards the river multiple times, but every time a vulture would fly to the carcass he would run back and give chase.

We left him defending the carcass and followed a hunch that the others would be in the riverbed taking a drink, on our way to the river we stumbled across them returning to the carcass. Again we returned to the carcass to find them all reunited and feeding.

The time finally came to leave them and a choice that I’d been wrestling with since the news of Shingalana’s attack should or shouldn’t we visit the site of her attack. Fearing what we might find and feeling somewhat queasy in the stomach but wanting to see exactly the situation, I decided to go take a look myself. To say I was overjoyed to find her alive would be the understatement of the year, but this was quickly replaced by a feeling of utter sadness and complete helplessness at the sight that lay before us. To take any positive from the sighting one could possibly consider that she moved from an open area three meters into the shade under a tree.

Being ever the optimist, even this was a little too much to wish for. Leaving her that evening I said my good-byes to an orphaned lioness I’d only mostly heard about but come to respect and admire for her survivor’s spirit. She had lost her pride and become a transient, travelling great distances scavenging what ever she could find alone.

In a somber mood we headed back to camp, and like myself I’m sure my guests had many thoughts running through their head and even more wishes through their heart! What they could not hear was a message that came through that the three Timbavati Males and two Machaton Females were seen in the far south highly mobile to the North. After chatting with Arende, a fellow guide, and who actually got to see the giraffe being brought down, money was on that they would be found in the morning at the giraffe kill. If there was ever a chance, no matter how small, of Shingalana surviving it ended with that news. Not only must she now contend with the many hyenas in the area but also the impending arrival of the Timbavati Males and Machaton Females.

Starting out earlier the next morning we headed straight back to the giraffe kill, as we were driving news came through that the Timbavati Males and Machaton Females had indeed found their way to the carcass and had chased off the White Lions.
The good news was that tracks for the White Lions were found leaving the scene and they appear to all have made it out safely, this still needs to be confirmed as we have not seen them since the giraffe kill. It was also reported that tracks for the Sohobele Males were found in the vicinity. It appears this giraffe carcass drew in all the lions in our traversing area. On arriving we found one male dominating the feeding with the rest being kept at bay. This is the furthest north that I have seen the Timbavati Males and Machaton Females and a long way from their normal traversing area.

Nobody had crossed over to visit the sight of Shingalana’s mauling, wanting closure we again headed that way. To our surprise not only was she alive but also she had moved those three meters again back in to the sun, obviously trying to heat up. This morning she also looked a lot stronger and a little hope returned. Admittedly she would have a long way to go and her wounds looked pretty nasty, and it appeared that she was still not that mobile, but nonetheless there was enough signs to be optimistic and heading back to camp that morning things were a lot more cheerful.
As if addicted to the outcome, we headed back that afternoon to follow up on the day’s events. On our way there we bumped into one of the Sohobele Males and another was seen not that far away, I’m a strong believer that these lions will survive their hardships and one day become impressive males, they have all the right genes!
The giraffe carcass was rapidly disappearing and the three Timbavati Males and two females were still present, but the real reason for our visit was to check up on Shingalana’s progress. I think this became the group’s focus from the moment we first saw her lying there at death’s door. Once again arriving at the sight we again first visited the Timbavati Males, who had now pulled the carcass into the shade of some nearby bushes.

I guess I always went to the giraffe kill first to emotionally prepare myself for what was to follow, would Shingalana still be lying there immobile, would the hyenas have found her or had other lions finished what they had started. Again the over powering need to know the outcome drew us into the sight, things seemed far quieter than normal and there was this unnerving stillness about the bush. As we rounded the weeping wattle that had come to be her shelter the past couple days you anticipated the flurry of vulture feathers as they took to the air leaving behind the carcass they were feeding on, but instead, we found nothing. A great sense of relief sighed from the vehicle and as we drove around the surrounding area looking for her and the time passed by without finding her, hope was reborn, along with a multitude of questions and theories. We can only surmise as to what happened but it looks like she built up enough strength during her days of rest to move away. Maybe it is her overwhelming sense to survive and she moved herself out of a particularly dangerous situation or perhaps the need for water became too great and that forced her to move. I don’t think the hyenas got to her, as she was there late morning and there was no signs of a struggle or any other indications that they were in that area. So she is mobile which is a great sign but she will have some very tough days ahead of her if she is to survive and she faces the ever-present danger of infection setting in, not to mention that she must also feed and be able to defend herself. The fighter that she is and her ability to survive has planted a seed of hope for all of us and we wait on time to play out the finale of this story.

Yet again, I’ve dedicated an entire blog to one story but so much else also occurred on drive that is worth writing about but I’ll let the photos below paint the picture for you.

Staff Bumble.

Once in a blue moon do we get a day that we don’t have guests, but when they come along it’s not only a great opportunity to catch up with things around the lodge but also to squeeze in a staff bumble. Now I hear you say, “what’s a staff bumble”, simply put it’s a staff game drive. Although we all live and work in the bush and there are plenty of animals wandering through camp, it’s nice for the staff to experience what the guest’s experience. It makes it possible for them to relate to the many stories that they hear daily, and also be able to pass on some of their own adventures.
On this occasion I was flying solo as Jacky took a rare afternoon break. I’m not too sure my car would have been as full had they known, but I still maintain I’m never lost, merely misplaced, and to add to that I’m as likely if not more likely to see animals on the roads less traveled. Anyway what’s a game drive without a little crowd participation, and with the help of Happy from housekeeping, and a map once or twice, we were sorted. So much so that we let the guys who tracked down the white lions and who are not that familiar with the area know exactly where they were from their description, ok so getting there was another story but we’ll keep that to ourselves.

After our little adventure and many a sighting we arrived at the White Lions, what made this special was that it was the first time that any of the staff onboard had seen White Lions.

Now we’re talking about staff that on average have been here between ten and fifteen years finally getting the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about. Their reaction and look on their faces was priceless in the presence of these very special visitors, who were feeding on an adolescent male waterbuck.

We were very fortunate, as it seems that everyone was quiet that day and we got to spend the majority of the afternoon with them. As night fell we left them to rest, full bellies and all, under some nearby purple pod cluster leaf trees.