August 2021

Winds of change


Winds of change

We are finally on the home stretch of our journey from winter into the long-awaited spring. The grass is now a dry yellow and red mosaic, becoming ever thinner and not springing back up as it used to after the large bodies of buffalo have rested in the shade of the ancient leadwood trees dotted in the plains. Even the lions are leaving flattened patterns in the grass, after feeding on a kill caught the night before, in the windy August evening.

This wind, as unpleasant as it can be some days, is the necessary shake-up before spring. The last dry leaves are blown from the almost bare branches, and seeds are scattered from their mother plant, where they will wait in dusty soils for the summer rains. It was on one of these very windy August mornings that a fellow guide, Ishmael, located a large pride of lions known to us as the Mananga pride, named after the Mananga 4x4 trail to the west of our concession, where these lions are frequently found. They had used the dark and very windy conditions to their advantage and managed to bring down a zebra during what we estimated to be the early hours of the morning.

Prey such as zebra and most other diurnal species do not have good night vision (essentially a high density of light sensitive rod cells in the retina) and rely on their sense of smell and hearing to be aware of their surroundings at night and to steer clear of nocturnal predators.

A windy night thus provides the perfect hunting conditions for predators, as their scent is masked and they do not have to pay too much attention to making sure their every step is quiet, as the wind rustling through the leaves and whizzing past the ears of their prey is loud enough to drown out their movement through the bush. The zebra almost don’t stand a chance against a pride of nine lionesses, one sub-adult male and two large dominant males.

The pride which, including the cubs, is 19 strong, made quick work of the zebra. On our arrival one of the large males, Xihamham, was dominating the remains of the carcass, emitting low growls every time a member dare get too close.

Even the smallest of the young cubs couldn’t resist the sight of a tasty zebra steak and attempted to sneak around the tree under which Xihamham was resting next to the carcass. What started out as a soft growl, quickly escalated into the big male lion swiping at the hungry cub with his large paw. The surprised cub let out a croaky yelp and ran back towards the females, who already understood the hierarchy of the situation. They were going to have to wait for Xihamham to have his fill.

This is typical lion behaviour as the males are so much larger and stronger than the females. As the dominant males in this area, they also offer protection to the new cubs from any intruding males and so need to keep well fed and in good overall condition. The females have no choice but to remain submissive, but I am sure they enjoy the peace and quiet, as well as having the whole carcass to themselves whilst the males are out patrolling the boundaries of their territory.

The August winds have provided us with great sightings of not only lions, but also the elusive leopards, feeding on a number of different occasions. A few weeks later we found the Mananga pride feeding on a large buffalo bull, but this time Xihamham was able to satisfy his hunger and there was still enough meat for all the females and cubs to also feed - to the point of almost popping! We were treated to the moans and groans of very full cubs as they crawled around dragging their bellies underneath them.

By Monika Malewski
Field Guide