One morning we were out on drive when we heard that the other guides had found two sub-adult male lions feeding on a hippo in the water at Dumbana Pools. When we arrived there we saw the two male lions struggling to remove the carcass from the water, but they were unsuccessful. They then went and lay on the rocks nearby wishing that the hippo would just get up and walk towards them and then collapse right into their mouths. I did not return to the pool at Dumbana that afternoon or the next morning, but had heard that the two sub-adult male lions had remained near the carcass and had only left the area late in the morning, following after the rest of the pride.
I was waiting for this opportunity as I thought that once the lions had left the carcass the crocodiles would take over and feast on the rotten meat. I thought that this would be quite interesting to see and so I went there in the afternoon and as I drove between the rocks I could hear the growling of numerous lions. The rest of the pride had returned and were again arguing over the meat. We could see that they had not consumed very much since the last time we were here. The hippo was, however, smelling quite putrid by now. Fortunately the breeze was not blowing towards us and we only got occasional whiffs of the horrible stench of decay. The lions were obviously not affected by the smell and they were growling at each other and trying to get a position where they could get a mouthful of meat. One of the sub-adult males was right at the edge of the rock with his back foot almost in the water and the scrumming was pushing him closer towards the pool. There were lots of crocodiles around now and we could see their golden eyes poking out of the water only metres from the carcass. The next thing the rear end of the carcass that was floating in the water moved, like when one wriggles one’s feet under the duvet. It sort of rippled. Then there was a wave and a short way away a long toothed snout appeared out of the surface of the muddy, murky water. The crocodile lifted its head up into the air with his jaws wide open, exposing the rows of sharp teeth and we could see, in its mouth, what appeared to be intestines or some other internal organs. He raised his head and threw the offal into his throat.
The mouths of crocodiles are not designed to chew meat, but rather to rip pieces off. They also do not have lips and therefore need to lift their heads up to get the food to fall into the gullet. As the crocodile lifted its head out of the water all the lions that were busy feeding stopped what they were doing and stared at the scaly water monster that had stolen their food from right under their noses and feet. We could see many more crocodiles streaming in now from the pond behind the carcass. Two of the cold-blooded creatures took exception to one another and the larger one launched an attack at the other, gripping hold of it by the mouth and shaking it. The lions stared at the two beasts fighting until their heads disappeared under the water. The cats then resumed feeding and once again the arguing and growling started. Once again the sub-adult male was being pushed more and more towards the water. He was right at the slippery edge and the waters around the carcass were now rippling with the movement of crocodiles. My guests were trying to tell the lion to move away from the water. Move away! The skin of the hippo moved from underneath again and another croc got hold of some of the hippo from below. He also rose his head up out of the water a few meters away and the lions all snarled at it. Other crocodiles moved towards the carcass causing small bow waves and the lions snarled at any movement. The sub-adult male was growling at the toothed submarines and even swatted at them with his paw on occasion. A crocodile surfaced its head close to the carcass and the lions, and swallowed some of the meat it had just taken from the underside of the hippo. This was a bit too much cheekiness for the lions to endure and one of the females growled and spat at it. The afternoon light was golden now and the shadows of the rocks started to cover the pond. In the middle of the pool a grey heron had caught a catfish and towards the shallows at the eastern end we could see many crocodiles, some with bits of hippo flesh in their mouths. A yellow-billed stork was stealing bits of scraps that fell out of the crocodile’s mouths. It then flew across the pond and attacked the heron causing it to drop the fish, which was immediately stolen by the stork! In the yellow fever tree towering over the pond the weaver birds were returning to their nest and they chattered in the late afternoon light. A monkey climbed up into the golden-hued tree for the evening. There was a pod of hippos in the middle of the pool. It was an incredible scene! The hippos were now becoming a little bit more curious. They gave a chorus of deep laughing calls and some of them slowly started making their way towards the carcass and the lions. The crocodiles were also torpedoing in on the carcass and had to go around a large hippo that was now quite close to its dead companion that was been torn apart by the lions and crocodiles. The hippo then raised itself out of the water and put its mouth and chin on the rump of the dead comrade and stared directly at the lions that were on the other side of the carcass. Quite a few of the lions decided then that they should move away from the edge of the water and the massive beast that was challenging them. The remaining lions growled at the hippo and gave a short charge and this caused it to return to the water. As it submerged the older lioness rushed at the wave of water and slipped off the side of the carcass. Her rear end ended up in the water and we could see a grimace on her face as if she was suddenly in great pain. I thought that she might have been bitten by a croc. She managed to climb back onto the carcass and safety of the rocks and we could not see any visible injury, although it was not long before a large crocodile poked its head out of the water right nearby and we could see the red blood all around its mouth. Surely the blood could not have come from the hippo carcass? The carcass was already days old and any blood would have long ago congealed. Did the blood come from the lioness and in the low light we could just not see the injury? She seemed fine though. It was getting quite dark now, with the sun having already set, and we decided to leave the scene and head back to camp. There were still a few lions at the carcass but most had moved away from the water and onto the rocks nearby. We looked back at the scene with complete amazement at what we had witnessed here. It was an incredible afternoon!
Other interesting nocturnal creatures seen this last month includes a number of sightings of honey badgers, African civets, both large and small spotted genets, porcupines, a sighting of an African wild cat and even two serval sightings. On two occasions Cape clawless otters were seen briefly in pools in the N’wanetsi River. These are very rarely seen in the concession!