Lions at Londolozi

Something on the horizon
Originally uploaded by Jeff Carlson.

We went on three wildlife tours while in South Africa. At the first, Hilltop Camp in Hluhluwe, we spotted one lion on a hilltop; you could see her face, but that was about it. At the second, the walking tour at Imfolozi, we didn’t see any cats at all. So when Kim and I arrived at Londolozi, we were hoping for more than a distant glimpse.

A pride of lions had been spotted the night before we arrived, so our guide Francois had a good idea of where they might be. A short while into our first evening drive, our tracker Zach spotted what looked like a faintly yellow curve of rocks beneath a distant tree: the lions.

Expecting a sighting similar to the one at Hilltop Camp, I extended the zoom of my little camera and hoped for the best. To my surprise, Francois drove us not just near the lions, but to them! We bounced through the bush a bit and parked within a dozen feet of four drowsy female lions.

They didn’t seem concerned at all that a Land Rover with six people in it parked in their space. Francois explained that 30 years of game drives have conditioned the animals to not pay much attention to the vehicles (but you don’t want to stand up or, worse, get out).

As he was talking, and as I filled my camera’s memory card with photos, the youngest lion perked up at the sight of a herd of wildebeast on a far-off ridge. Slowly she got up and started moving in that direction, and the other three followed.

The wildebeast went out of sight, and the lions didn’t seem too interested in giving chase. However, one of them was picking up something — either visually or by scent — so we continued to follow her for a while. Finally, about 3 km from where we found them, she ducked her head to the ground and came up with a dead duiker (a small antelope). Francois theorized that it had been killed by another predator, perhaps a leopard, that didn’t have use for the entire body. As we watched, she consumed the tiny animal, leaving no trace and being watchful of the other lions in case they wanted to come by and fight for a snack.

When they did catch up, they knew she had eaten something. It was also apparent that she was older and not as high in the hierarchy of this band, because they obviously gave her some gruff and shunned her for a few minutes. Not too long after, though, relations appeared to be repaired, and they all nuzzled a bit before we left them for the night.

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