The sun was lighting up the lions on top of the ridge near Green Apple Hill. There were approximately twelve of the large cats and they were resting, lying almost on top of one another. It was a great sighting. It was quite early in the morning and Exon (one of the senior trackers) had gone out before all the guides to assist us in finding animals for the guests to see. He had seen the tracks of the Shish pride crossing the road, heading towards Dumbana Pool and had gone to the northern side to see if they had crossed the river. There the tracks had continued up towards the ridge and then further north. He had followed the footprints until he finally found the pride resting among the rocks. We had only just left the lodge when he called on the radio saying that he had located them. What a start for the morning – we already had lions lined up! We headed towards where Exon had found the lions and on route we came across a hyena from the Nyokeng clan feeding on the old remains of a hippo carcass. The carcass had been lying there for a few weeks already and we were surprised that the hyena was still chewing on some of the bones and the dried up skin. We watched her for a short while before carrying on towards where the lions were lying.
The early morning sun was providing some great light and it was awesome for photography with all the lions cuddling up together. Lions, when they are resting, look quite docile and friendly. It is only when you notice their huge muscles, sharp claws and long canines that you properly realise that these are incredibly dangerous animals. The fact that they allow us to get so close to them in the vehicles often gives us the wrong impression of them. One has to remind oneself that they are indeed large carnivores… and that we are meat. Often, when watching lions from a vehicle, one may notice how they sometimes stare at the individual people on the car. It is as if they can see right through you. Their amber gaze can be quite disconcerting to those guests who are on safari for the first time.
JP had already left the sighting and told us that he was going to head north to look for cheetahs and other large animals. We remained watching the lions sleeping when JP came on the radio saying that he had just found a black-backed jackal below the ridge that was busy chasing an impala near the Sticky Thorn thickets. Jackals do not usually go for prey as big as impalas and feed mainly on smaller vertebrates such as birds, mice, scrub hares etc (and also scavenge on the remains of carcasses that the larger predators have left behind). JP came back on the radio and I could hear the excitement in his voice… “this jackal is busy killing the impala now!”
The lions were still lying, sleeping and it did not look like they were going to move soon so I decided to go and see what was happening down below the ridge, where JP was. When we arrived we could see both the jackal and the impala. The impala was lying underneath a bush and the jackal was biting at its side. I was amazed that the jackal had managed to bring the impala down.
We positioned the car to watch the jackal feeding on the dead impala when the impala suddenly started to stand up… it was not yet dead! The jackal jumped to the side and the impala stood up on shaky legs. The jackal immediately went for the impala again and the young male impala tried to defend itself with its horns, but the jackal was quick and jumped to the side. As the impala lowered its head the jackal grabbed hold off the impala’s throat and started tearing at the neck. The impala collapsed again and the jackal grabbed hold of the flank of the poor antelope and bit through the skin on the stomach. The impala stood up again and as it rose the intestines and innards fell out of the gaping wound. The impala tottered on its feet and the jackal charged again. The impala tried to run but it was in severe trouble now. Its neck had been torn open and its guts were spilling out of the wound on its side. It was gruesome! As the jackal came around again the impala fell down once more. We knew that it was not going to be able to get up again. The jackal knew it too! He rushed towards the rump area and immediately started biting and swallowing, tearing muscles out while the impala bleated and finally collapsed.
By now the vultures had seen what was going on and they started descending like arrows from the sky in a medieval battle. They gathered behind the jackal and soon there were quite a few of them. The jackal charged at the crowd of birds causing them to scatter, but more and more were arriving. Soon there were enough of them to drive the jackal from the carcass. The jackal realized that she could not compete with the birds and decided to leave the scene. As the jackal departed the vultures ran towards the carcass in that strange, drunken gait that they use when on the ground. There were still some guides watching the lions on top of the ridge and we heard from them that the lions had seen the descending vultures and some of them had gotten up now and were running down the hill towards where we were. We watched as the vultures fought and bickered over the carcass. They had gathered in a large huddle like boys in a schoolyard ‘barney’.
Then, suddenly, all the vultures moved away from the kill and started to take off all at once. We knew what was happening, and the next thing a lioness came running in towards the meat. She immediately grabbed the impala, picked it up and disappeared into the thorny thicket. We were amazed at what we had just witnessed. It was heart-wrenching to watch the grisly death of such a beautiful creature. It was a reminder that not everything in nature is cute and fluffy. Each creature lives its own life and has its own battles for survival. Nature can be hard!