Friday, 30 January 2015

In the company of lions

We spent this morning in the company of lions. The first we met were two lionesses weaving through the waving grasses, eyes locked on a big herd of buffalo. Behind came two more, watching the leaders as they went. The lead female sat, and her focus changed to a smaller group of buffalo past the river and our jeeps, on the other side of the road. The second then crossed the river and wove by its bank to a ford. She slumped in the shade of a bush with another lioness, previously unseen. Soon though she left to drink from the ford, mere metres from our jeep. She was followed by the new lioness, who, barely could we believe it, had two small cubs - no more than six weeks old - at heel. This lioness spread herself under a dead tree in full view and her tubby cubs suckled. Cameras clicked, hearts raced and tears rolled in our jeeps.

Lioness with young cubs.

Soon a third lioness crossed the river towards us. Her nose sliced in two and half of one canine lost she stood by the road and panted in the blunt late morning heat. Her pride sisters, the syrup-gold female who had drunk from the ford and the massive pale mother, joined her, leaving the cubs in the safe shade. They now moved towards the buffalo herd and the acacias by them.

We too moved, to visit more lions, who since morning had been watched stripping a buffalo killed last night. These were the same too-slim mothers and cubs we had seen yesterday, one of them readily recognisable by her satellite collar. By the time we reached them only two females, including the collared animal, yet gnawed at the bones of this once great beast. A male buffalo reduced to blood-pink bone and still-broad horns in a matter of hours. Ruepell's starlings crowded the lions, hoping for handouts, and two black-backed jackals trotted in circles around them, awaiting their chance.

The rest of the pride sat nearby in the shade, three females draped in the branches of a tree, their bellies, yesterday so empty, swollen with meat. Their hunger assuaged they dozed, safe from starvation for a few days more.

Lionesses in a tree.

Again we moved, now to Retima, where the Seronera and Orange rivers meet, and dozens of hippos belch, grunt and fart the day away, filling the air with their stench. A single small crocodile lay by them in the hippo-filthy water and a blacksmith lapwing trotted in hesitant fits and starts along the shore.

It's an easy mistake to make.

This afternoon, now to the north, we drove through Togoro, a wide wild savannah skirted around with acacias. In the tree-belt a steinbok crouched to the grass before skipping away on light feet. Light-footed too, a pair of Temminck's coursers crept across stones at our approach. Every scrubby tree seemed taken, by a European roller, or a cuckoo, African or great spotted. As the grassland opened we came to a herd of the kind depicted in children's books and films. Here was all imagined Africa in one: zebra, buffalo, hartebeest, topi, Grant's and Thomson's gazelles, ostrich and a secretarybird. On the ridge of the hill above a single giraffe browsed. All Africa in one.

We stay tonight at Mbuzi Mawe. whose name in Swahili means klipspringer. These little rock-hopping antelopes inhabit this wonderful camp and the boulders above. As I write yellow-spotted bush-hyraxes bounce on the canvas roof of the bar and cicadas sing the great song of Africa to the night.

A male hyrax, apparently.


  1. Tears? What tears? Surely not! Sniff, sniff! 😊

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