Something we’ve learned as game rangers when it comes to the wild is to expect the unexpected. One never knows when an incredibly exciting moment is about to happen. My guests and I had the perfect reminder of this earlier in the week, on the Kapama Game Reserve.
After spending some time watching a small family of elephants, our morning safari was almost over and we decided to head towards the river for a coffee stop. One of the other rangers had found some lions earlier on in the drive, not too far away from where we wanted to stop, so I asked for an update as to what was happening with the cats. “Still fast asleep – flat cats” was the reply from the ranger who was with them. Watching lions that are fast asleep – not even lifting their heads – is not particularly riveting, but as we hadn’t seen lions the night before, we decided to swing past for a few minutes to see if they had at least decided to move off into the shade.
On arrival we noticed one of the dominant male lions resting about 15 metres away from a lioness and her sub-adult male cub. This was an unusual combination. I explained to my guests that the only reason the big male would have been around was because he had sensed that the female was in oestrus, ready to mate. After watching the cats for about ten minutes, we decided to move on for our coffee break as it didn’t seem as if much was going to happen. As I started my vehicle and slowly began to pull away, the dominant male lifted his head. I quickly positioned us so that everyone could get some pictures as he graciously yawned – the perfect pose.
All of a sudden, after getting up and stretching, the male sauntered over and approached the female and her son, not at all weary of the much younger male. However, without hesitation the young male launched a fearless first strike, viciously assaulting the bigger male with a surprise attack. It was a brave effort on the young lion’s part, and he even managed to repel the larger male for a few moments. Once he had recovered from the initial shock and surprise, the dominant male regained his composure and initiated a fiery counter attack of his own. After landing a few blows each, the younger male realised his defense could only last so long, and wisely decided to flee.
We watched as he raced across the open plains for approximately 400 metres, the bigger lion hot on his heels the entire way. After losing sight of them in thickets, we drove around to the other side of the plains and got there just in time to see the young male emerge. It was only some thirty seconds later that his adversary emerged from the bush. Satisfied with his victory, we watched in awe as he roared to reinforce his dominance of the area, before turning back into the thickets to find his way back to the female.
It was an incredibly fascinating and exciting sighting that we were fortunate enough to enjoy, made even more memorable by the humbling reminder of how quickly in Africa the calm and still can be shattered by a life and death struggle.