Monday, 3 October 2011

02nd October: The Battle Of Sohobele Plains.

Pic of the Day.
Morning Drive.

( Herold, Grant, Wayne & Marka.)

Rhino ( 2 x Unknown)
Lion ( Jacaranda Pride: 2 x Females & Cub) / Peru – Long Rd.
Lion ( 3 x Maghlatini's & Timbavati Female) / Peru – Malonga Rd.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boys) / Motswari – Xinatsi Dam Rd. North.
Elephant ( Kambaku's) / DeLuca – Western Cutline.

Afternoon Drive.

( Herold, Grant, Wayne & Marka.)

Elephant ( Kambaku's) / Motswari – Sean's Clearing.
Lion ( 2 x Maghlatini Males) / Peru – Tawny Eagle Rd.
Lion ( Maghlatini Male, Timbavati & Jacaranda Female) / Peru – Hamerkop Rd.
Lion ( White Lions) / Peru – Tawny Eagle Rd.
Lion ( Jacaranda Female & Cub.) / Argyle – Fish Eagles Nest.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boys) / Motswari – Moerala Pan.

Daily Synopsis.

Waking at three to the sounds of Lions roaring close to camp, I got up and went outside to get a direction so we could head straight in that direction on morning drive. Returning to bed I dreamt of the White Lions for the next hour and half on a Buffalo kill, wouldn't that be nice!

With all of us excited about drive we strategised over morning coffee, deciding who would check where and making sure we had the whole area covered. Jacky and I headed to the North check our boundary with Ingwelala, as they had had the White Lions there the previous night. Herold and Wayne checked to the East, while Marka checked the Central sections.

It was not long before we all picked up on tracks and this included other stations from neighbouring lodges. It was now to make sense of it all and get heading in the right direction. The tracks that we picked up on we are pretty confident were for the White Lions as they crossed from Ingwelala. It was also for three Lions and the size and shape fit the White Lion tracks exactly. When we heard that someone else had picked up tracks for three Lions further South we thought they must be the same one's we were following up on, so we headed off in their direction to speed up the process. It was during this that we bumped two relatively relaxed Rhino that stood and watched us while we were so engrossed in the tracks we nearly missed them. Having had a good view we left them to carry on our way.

Mean time it appeared we were looking at a number of prides in the area as some of the guys where following up on tracks for Male Lions while others were on the trail of females. With so many vehicles in the area it was not long before one of the stations picked up on the two Jacaranda females with their cub. They were at Sohobele Dam before walking down into the riverbed and headed North. With the mercury rising quickly and the cub struggling to keep up they chose a good resting spot in amongst the reeds in the dry riverbed. Good for them, not so good for us, as when they lay down you could just make them out. The cub looked shattered and he lay out in the full sunshine basically coming to rest where he fell.

It was while leaving this sighting that another of the stations picked up on a Maghlatini Male with one of the Timbavati Females. From their behaviour it would appear that they are either at the beginning of or at the end of their honeymoon, as during the entire morning that they were followed they did not show any interest in mating. Another surprise lay in store though because as they were following the couple they found his two brothers walking ahead! So within a very small distance we had members of the Jacaranda, Timbavati and Maghlatini Prides, not bad considering for the last week we have not had any Lions in the North. This did not include the tracks for the White Lions that we were still following up on. The tracking was tough going as it appeared all the tracks had come together at one stage and it was very difficult to know who's who's and in which direction we should be heading.

Leaving Jacky to do what he does best and solve the inevitable puzzle. I headed back North, not to the Lions as you may all think but rather to a couple of Bull Elephant that had been found. There were a couple of reasons for this, first and foremost was the fact that it had been longer since my last Elephant sighting than my Lion sighting. Secondly the Lions had drawn quite a bit of attention so we thought it better to let things quieten down before taking our turn.

While we spent our morning with the Elephant and the Lions, Jacky, Difference and Pete had done well to decipher the tracks and get on the right path. They now where heading to the South West funnily enough in the opposite direction to the Maghlatini's and their aunt. I guess the two White sub adults have chosen to stick with their male cousin. With time running out on us we think we may have come close as they guys found where the Lions had been running. They think it may have been from them and that the White Lions had seen them before they got a chance to see the Lions.

Wow, don't even know where to start, what an emotional roller-coaster of an afternoon, the nerves are definitely shot. I really don't think any thing that I write will convey the afternoons events.

It all started off with me heading out with all the trackers to continue to follow up on the White Lion tracks that we had left in the morning. Dropping them off I was about to start to check the roads in the vicinity when I heard Lions roaring around Sohobele Dam. I mentioned this to the guys but chose not to follow up on it as it was more than likely the Maghlatini's who we left in the area in the morning. Staying focused we were after the White Lions and I continued to check the roads in and around the area that we last had their tracks. It must have been about a half an hour later that one of our Northern stations contacted me and asked if I wanted to see the White Lions. They had been found drinking at the Southern end of Sohobele Dam. Unfortunately we were not the only one's that had found them as the Maghlatini's were up and about too and had been on the Western side on the dam wall. We were not there for the initial encounter but from what was being relayed over the radio once the Maghaltini's got wind of the White Lions they immediately began to stalk and hunt them down. Luckily for the White's the area around the dam is open and the Maghlatini's did not get up to close to them before they realised they must make a hasty retreat. Sticking together they ran off to the South West with the Maghlatini's in hot pursuit. Unfortunately when they hit the cover of the trees they became separated and things turned very dangerous for the three of them. For the next two and a half hours the plains of Sohobele Dam became a battlefield with the White Lions fighting for their lives. After becoming separated the Maghaltini's also spread out and chose their individual victims. It was the young male that we all thought would be the target of their attack and initially he was the first one to run into deep trouble with one of the Maghaltini's catching up to him and attacking him. He was fortunate though as it was only the one Lion he had to contend with and was able to escape his bigger and slower male counterpart. It also now became apparent that they were not that interested in the young male but were rather after the young females. As we sat in amongst it all there were reports of Lions all over the area with the Timbavati Female and her suitor in amongst it all, along with the one other Jacaranda Female. The Jacaranda Female with the young cub was to be found a little North of all the action. With Lions heading in all directions and running into one another at every turn it was hard to make any sense of it all! It was then that one of the young White females came running out of the bushes behind our vehicle with a Maghlatini Male in hot pursuit. We decided to try and follow her, all the time thinking how we could help when the time came. It was nerve racking to watch as this male committed everything to try catch and kill this young White Female. She was terrified and had defecated all over herself. He would get to within metres and take a swipe trying to trip her up, this would delay him and she would gain a little ground. Instead of running off to the horizon she would slow and rest and the male would then once again catch up and try again. It appeared the female was more concerned with leaving her siblings than trying to get as far away from the male as possible. Listening intently to what was going on with the rest of the pride we heard that the other White Female had made it to relative safety with the male having slowed and lost her scent. The young male then found himself in trouble again as the Maghlatini Male began to return in his direction. He continually choose the wrong direction and yet again found himself being chased, this time it appeared in a fatal direction as he was heading straight back towards his mother and the Maghlatini Male that was courting her. Instead of the violent attack the guys expected he seemed to be accepted and actually joined with the two females and the Maghlatini Male. They all came to rest within a couple of metres of one another.

It was about this time that the other White Female turned up again obviously trying to regroup with her brother and sister. She walked straight into a trailing Maghlatini and the chase was once again on. This time she ran in our direction to the South. We were still with her sister who after being chased for nearly a kilometre had finally exhausted the Maghlatini and he had dropped off and we could no longer see him. We did know she was safe from him though as he began roaring some distance away to try relocate his brothers and send out a warning of his dominance. We sat with her as she caught her breath and rested on top of a termite mound which gave her a good vantage point of the surrounding area. It was not long before she started calling out plaintively to her siblings. After recouping sufficiently she turned back to the North West and continued to call out to her brother and sister. We received good news that the sister had once again escaped the Maghlatini Male and was heading in her sisters direction obviously having picked up on her call.  

Note the defecation.

Feeling sufficiently confident that they would be safe we left them and headed off to confirm what we had heard earlier about the young male being with the Maghlatini, Timbavati and Jacaranda Females. Arriving on scene there before us sat the young male a short distance away from the Maghaltini Male who showed no interest in him what so ever. While sitting there disbelievingly the young male stood and turned his attention to the South. His ears pricked up just before he set off at a gallop in the direction of his two sisters who had now joined up and were heading South out of harms way.

As I write this now I still don't know what to make of it all and I'm sure it's going to take me a couple of days to get my head around it, if ever. The Maghlatini's intent towards the White Lions was clear had they caught up with them, they would have killed them! Yet they accepted the young male who we all thought was the target of their aggression. This now opens up a whole heap of questions the most disturbing of them being, is it the White coat that makes them the target. If so will they ever be accepted and will they ever be safe or will they life a life on the run! Another question that I fear the answer to is, where is their mother?

Although it all ended well this time things could have been a whole lot different and I unfortunately don't think this is the end of it. From my side, it was the most heart wrenching thing that I've ever experienced in the bush and I literally felt sick to the stomach the entire drive. The White Lions hold a very special place for me with both of us arriving in the Timabavati at the same time, I've watched them grow to where they are now and have experienced many up's and down's with them but this afternoon I felt real fear for them!

After the afternoon we had just experienced an extra long sundowner was in order. It was so long in fact that when we resumed drive we headed straight back to camp that was not far away. The afternoon not being done with us yet threw up one final surprise. Driving North we bumped a Jacaranda Female and her cub, being after dark and not viewing cubs under six months under the spot light, we turned into the bush to drive around them as they made their way along the road. As we rounded the corner and were about to rejoin the road, there alongside us sat one Timbavati Female and one Jacaranda female, this would not have been bad had it not been for the fact that a Maghlatini Male was with them. Once again we presumed that with the joining of the female and cub, the Maghlatini Male would destroy it, but instead they all came together peacefully and sat there together. This must mean that the cub is the offspring of a Maghlatini Male!  

With one question answered a whole bunch now have to be asked. I think we will save that for another day though!


  1. Wow, my heart was beating really fast just reading your blog, so I can't imagine how scary it must have been to actually witness the drama unfolding! I really hope that the white lionesses don't get hurt.

  2. NIce write up Chad...sure hope the males aren't trying to kill them because of coat colour...from my experience of lions in the Sabi Sands, it seems as though the females are only recognized for mating potential around 3 years old and animals younger than this are targeted to be killed...pity the males dont see the long term benefits of having them around!! Hope theyre alright but at least they are very mobile and of some size now so they have a fighting chance!!

  3. Heart stopping report!

  4. What a story!!!
    Hope they are alright and run for safety as much as they can.


  5. What a fantastic day amazing adventure. Keep it coming.

    Debby and the McLellands