The start of winter nights

As winter approaches there are big changes happening on the reserve. The lush green scenery is being dominated by more and more colours of brown and gold and one can see further and further into the bush. This does have its advantages in the sense of being able to spot animals at greater distances into the bush, but also plays a huge role in the time changes of when the animals are active. Seeing that it gets darker a lot earlier these days, we do a great deal of the afternoon drives at night using the spot lights and head lights to show us where the animals are hiding. Because of this, there is also a big change in the type of sightings we have during the afternoon game drives as we get the opportunity to see the nocturnal animals in more of their natural behaviour patterns. A brilliant example of this happened tonight with the pride of thirteen lions.

There has been a lot of talk that the pride is taking on small game for their meals and that they will be struggling during the winter months seeing that a warthog is not really an efficient meal for thirteen big hungry cats, but this pride has proven everybody wrong tonight.

It was shortly after enjoying a nice sun downer stop with a beautiful sunset over the Drakensberg Mountains that a co-ranger picked up fresh tracks of the pride. They have been staying close to the lodge the last couple of days and followed the usual habit of hunting a couple of warthogs to keep most pride members happy and lazy, but tonight something was different. The pride was being taken into new territory, the territory of the pride’s dominant male’s father – the big boy on the reserve, but this might change pretty soon as we noticed the young male scent marking in the territory of his father; a sure sign of wanting to expand his own range. Not just did the young male start marking the area, but the females where out on a hunt in these unfamiliar grounds usually full of plains game such as wildebeest and zebras. As the twilight hour struck and the usual quietness at this time of the day took over, visual started to get very poor for most animals, but not for the lions; this is exactly what they were waiting for, they now had the upper hand with absolutely superb vision at night.

A snort from a wildebeest breaks the silence of the night, tension fills the air and the wildebeest starts to stomp around uneasily. Something is not right, they are not alone. A quick growl confirms their worst nightmare and in a confused scramble they realise they have already been surrounded. The three big lionesses of the pride had circled them perfectly and everyone was in the exact spot they were supposed to be. A massive thump could be heard as the first two females drove the wildebeest into the ground as it ran down the riverbed embankment… success…..but wait, only seconds after there is another thump as the third female had plans of her own and took a second wildebeest by surprise, bringing it down in the middle of the road in a cloud of dust and confusion.

It doesn’t take long for the rest of the pride to respond, with half of the cubs and the male making a run for the first wildebeest to join the feast. The three sub adults decided to rather join their mom and share in her success with the wildebeest still kicking dust in the road with some cubs not far behind them.

Two grown wildebeest kill in a matter of seconds by the three hunters of the group. I think it is safe to say that there is nothing to worry about when it comes to their capabilities to hunt and take down prey that will feed the whole pride to the full. We are all looking forward to seeing what these machines will be doing this season as it is also getting closer to the time of the sub-adults assisting the lionesses in the hunt and with the day/night change happening earlier these days, we will hopefully be able to witness more of these magnificent sights.

Piet – Kapama River Lodge
15/04/2013



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