Stalking Cats and Injured Lions

We found her in the tall grasses, moaning and crying out to her pride. She was injured and alone after the previous night’s hunt. She called again, but we heard no response. She endured our stares and the clicks of our cameras before slowly rising and moving to another place in the grass. We could see the gash on her left hind leg from the cape buffalo’s horn and noted how often she licked her lips.

We visited her twice that day, sad to see she hadn’t moved, wondering if she’d make it. Our ranger told us she was 14 years old and near the end of her life span (African lions live 13 to 25 years). That night we heard her cries answered by others, and when we encountered the lions on a game drive the next morning, there she was, moving slowly, but walking, following the other lions in her pride, her children (two female lions) and grandchildren (eight male cubs).

In the back of the open land rover, I watched the stalking cats and trotting cubs, obviously on the prowl, a herd of cape buffalo nearby. We drove quickly through the bush, trying to stay ahead of the lions, through acacia thorns and branches, and straight down a steep bank full of sticks, bushes, briars, thorns, and trees to the dry river bed. As we reached the sandy bottom, holding on tight as we twisted and turned, leaning the opposite way, we got stuck. Our wheels spun as we saw the lions chasing a buffalo and heard the kill. We sat tight in the vehicle, not daring to get out of the truck with lions so nearby.

After being pulled out of the sand by another land rover, we caught up to the cubs and their grandmother and photographed them hanging out, waiting for a signal from the two lionesses who’d made the kill. A few hundred feet away, we found the hunters at the beginning of their meal. We parked and sat still, except for the movement of our cameras, watching as the lions and later the cubs, tore open the belly of a young cape buffalo only a few feet away. We listened to the sounds of their teeth chewing through the hide and smelled the fermenting contents of the victim’s stomach. The lions ignored us, used to the dark green trucks and the silhouette of the people inside.

“Uh-oh,” one of the women in our vehicle said as the grandmother lion began walking straight toward us. But Moses, our ranger, wasn’t worried. “She’s just looking for shade,” he said. And, sure enough, she lay down in the shade our truck provided, only inches from the truck and the people in it.

We left her and the others, still enjoying their meal, and headed back to the water hole near the lodge reaching it just before a large herd of cape buffalo arrived and wallowed in the water, looking for a drink.

Videos on this post by Tommy Taft on trip taken in August 2011.

Lions at Night

Back from another game drive, I warmed my hands on a mug of tea. Others were drinking wine; the kids, hot chocolate. We sat around a fire in a boma or enclosure, waiting for dinner to be served at the game lodge.

Conversation was interrupted as the land rovers returned. The lions were on the hunt. Would we mind being late for dinner? Adrenaline rushing, I left my drink behind, ran to the trucks and hopped on the one in front. I covered my lap with a wool blanket as others clambered aboard with me. As we drove away, I saw the rest of my family in the truck behind.

The drive was fast and brief, the lions were near the rangers’ camp. We stopped short, and as our driver, Ginger, shone the spotlight around the bush, we saw only the hunt’s aftermath, a hyena hanging out; a lion licking its paws, bloody from the cape buffalo who got away; a few cubs playfully running in the dark.

Our hearts pounding, we returned to the lodge, wishing for more, but happy with the thrill. As I jumped off the truck and began walking into the boma, I was stopped. Rhinos were spotted in camp while we were gone. I needed a chaperone and a flashlight.

Escorted to our hut, we grabbed what we needed then headed back for dinner, hearing the sounds of hyenas on our way. Exhilarated, we sat on benches around big tables, sharing food and wine with guests from Australia and London and locals who work at the lodge. Laughter and stories were easy that night, and we slept well, ready for another day of adventure on safari.

Photos on this post by Tommy Taft on trip taken in August 2011.