Pride on the runway

Sabi Sand | April 2020

During this lockdown period part of my day requires me to head out onto the reserve, not only to keep up a presence and to monitor the property, but also to find sightings to share with our guests who cannot be with us during this time. It truly is a privilege for me to be able to do this during a lockdown where so many others are confined within their homes.

On a misty afternoon a few weeks ago, my fiancé and I headed out for an afternoon drive searching the banks of the Sand River for tracks of a pride I had heard calling the night before. Currently there are several prides that hold territory on the concession, however, the Mhangeni pride in particular tend to spend most of their time in closer proximity to the lodge.

Kate and I switched the Land Rover off under a massive jackalberry tree, which I would imagine is likely five times older than I am, and watched as the river raged past us. Below us lay a vast stretch of white sandy beach where we could clearly see the large paw prints of the cats which had crossed through the deep water to explore the southern section of their territory.

After following the tracks for some time, I stopped the Land Rover again to admire a herd of elephant drinking from a pool of water so close that you could hear the water moving down their throats. A peaceful and serene moment was suddenly interrupted by the cackling and laughing of hyenas. We started up the engine and raced up toward the Singita airstrip. A clan of six spotted hyenas were arguing with each other over the remains of a zebra that had been killed by lions the previous night. Hyenas are good hunters, however in the Sabi Sand region where there are so many other apex predators, they tend to take the easier route and scavenge for their meals.

We figured that the lions couldn’t be too far away so headed further up the airstrip and, to our amazement, found them – the entire Mhangeni pride as well as the resident dominant Othawa male lion all sleeping with enlarged bellies right in the middle of the airstrip! The lions had brought down and eaten the adult zebra in the space of one evening, a truly impressive feat. Interestingly it happened right there on the tarmac. I asked myself whether it might be a coincidence or do lions perhaps understand that by chasing prey across such a surface it could lead to the animal slipping, and ultimately making their job a lot easier. I can’t really be sure however I have witnessed similar sightings in the Kruger National Park on a few different occasions so there may be some truth to it.

We sat with the pride as they slept, in the hope that they might all at some point get up and head towards the nearby waterhole. Thankfully our patience was rewarded and the entire pride started to stretch and yawn, which more often than not is an indication that they are likely to start moving. One by one the animals began to stir and then move until they were all striding down the centre of the airstrip straight towards us. When in the presence of these magnificent creatures so many emotions come over you, particularly when they pass quite literally within two feet of your vehicle as if you weren’t even there. It was a truly powerful experience and one that will not easily be forgotten.

Watching this incredible sight unfold on the airstrip made me think of the traffic that usually frequents the tarmac – our guests from around the world. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been six weeks since the last guest arrived and they have been sorely missed. We cannot wait to have them return and to again share with them these incredible moments.