A First, by Ranger Dylan!
It was an unusually warm morning for this time of year, and after dragging myself out of bed at 5:30 in the morning I was in my game viewer and out in the bush with my trusty Stanley coffee mug and camera. I decided it was to be a birding morning, but had to wait for the golden glow of the rising sun to entice them to start their morning singing; at 6:00 am however, there was only the faint glow of dawn in the sky, and so I came across a breeding herd of Impala who seemed much less skittish than all the other times I had encountered them; so I turned off my vehicle and enjoyed my coffee while watching them calmly grazing, with the dominant male keeping close watch over his harem, making sure they dare not stray with bellowing calls and grunts. Then, without the faintest sound or disturbance, all the Impala simultaneously lifted their heads and stared in the same direction, concentrating like a collective consciousness, towards something behind my vehicle; “Strange”, I thought, nothing I had done would’ve caused this unison stare – and then it started – that sound one can only experience in Africa; the loud, bellowing roars of the male African Lion. After spilling half of my coffee all over my lap, I nearly broke my neck turning around to see the silhouette of the King of the Plains, telling all who would listen that he was here. I started my trusty Land cruiser and turned around to get a closer glimpse, but that glimpse turned out to be quite the story unfolding; low and behold, all three of our lions were together. Our male was chasing one of our females whom he hadn’t really seen since her release from our boma, and it wasn’t innocent and inquisitive either – he was chasing her with a sort of aggression that he would show a trespasser, and off they ran into the bush, female bolting like an Olympic runner and him in tow. Calmly, our other female (The Olympians’ sister) watched this race unfold, and slowly made her way through the bush. “Oh no” I thought, “I hope she got away.” I followed the lioness, stopping every now-and-then when she called for her sister with soft, low rumbling calls before moving on. As this was to be a birding drive, I had no rifle, but the urge to follow these majestic cats outweighed my personal safety – luckily for us, our animals are true gems; I have only once needed to cock my rifle at an animal, and this sufficed as fair warning of what could possibly follow. She eventually lay behind a small bush and I parked about 5 meters from her, her head turning and looking at me as though to acknowledge my presence, but not worried by it, before turning to look in front of her. “Amazing!” I thought, I was just another inedible animal to her, all rubber and metal, and so I watched her and drank what was left of my coffee, wondering where the male and the Olympian had dashed off to. Then, suddenly, something which I could not pinpoint caught the lying lioness’ attention, and immediately she stood into a crouch, eyes dilated and intense, and she slowly edged forwards; now that stance is indicative of these magnificent hunters, and I knew then and there that she had found what she wanted for breakfast. I picked up my radio in vain, hoping that someone would hear my transmission: “Stations, I am about to see a lion kill”, but no one answered my excited call. She slowly edged forward, oblivious to my vehicles loud and clattering sounds as I edged forward, and then WHAM!, she pounced. I heard Blue Wildebeest snort and scramble, I followed the sounds with my eyes and saw a dust cloud then, long legs with hooves flying through the air followed by the unmistakeable sound of an animal in distress, calling out for the last time. All of this couldn’t have taken longer than 5 seconds, and then it was done. The death bellows stopped; the female lioness had bitten down on her preys face, covering mouth and nose, slowly suffocating it. I drove my vehicle into the bush, trying to get close, and in the corner of my eye I caught that shape that I had seen earlier – the male had reappeared, chasing off any would-be uninvited guests to his breakfast, he turned and looked me directly in my eyes and started towards me. “Oh flip…” I thought, “Here comes trouble,” but he took a few steps and then turned away, as if to imply that I was actually an invited guest. My heart was already racing from watching the scene unfold, but in that moment I went ice cold, as if it were winter in my veins. “Stations, she has taken down a Blue Wildebeest, her and male are now stationary, feeding.” I tried the radio one more time, but to no avail. After watching for about ten minutes, I thought “people need to see this!”, turned my vehicle on and went back to the lodge to fetch everyone I could find. We travelled back to the breakfast table and watched both lions eat their fill, before leaving what seemed to be a substantial amount of meat behind and left. This was my first successful lion kill, and to say it was a highlight is an understatement – that day I saw exactly why Africa’s largest cat is the King (or Queen) of the Savannah Plains; their elegance in the chase, their sheer power and their determination cannot be firsted by any other animal in Africa. And so my respect of the species is cemented, an experience such as this is awe inspiring and definitely worth seeing.
– By Ranger Dylan Dempsey