Lions in the Kalahari & the Pandemic

October 30, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

All photos in this blog are copyrighted by the author and may not be used without license or permission

 

The Kalahari lion is a sub-species of lion. Kalahari lions look different and behave differently to other lions in Africa as a result of their adaptation to desert conditions. They are bigger, live in smaller groups and have larger territories. Males have black manes.

An adult male Kalihari lion    A female Kalihari lion

Male and female Kalahari lions

In 2020, a female lion gave birth to three cubs – two females and one male – by a waterhole near one of the visitor camps in the desert. The camp closed during lockdown and remained empty until Spring 2022. In the meantime, the cubs grew considerably, with the juvenile females almost the size of their mother by October 2022. The juvenile male sported the beginnings of a mane. He is likely to be booted out of the pride soon, while the juvenile females are nearing the time that they will look for mates. When they, in turn, give birth to cubs, the pride will grow.

Juvenile male lion, his two female siblings and mother lion at the waterhole

The lion pride (l to r): juvenile male, two juvenile females and mother lion

The mother lion taught the cubs not to be afraid of humans in the camp. When it reopened earlier this year, the youngsters, especially the females, were naturally curious about the goings on in the camp and often prowled around the buildings. In the heat of the day, the lions sought refuge by lying underneath the guest lodges. Wire put around the bottom of the lodges solved this problem, but the lions simply took to the using the shade between the lodges.

 

It is not uncommon for safari visitors to come across a lion on occasion. On a bush walk with a guide, an encounter with a lion as well as other wildlife, is almost inevitable. However, the difference for this lion pride is that they have adopted the camp as their territory and humans are the interlopers, having been away for almost all of the lives of the juvenile lions.

 

As we were about to sit down to breakfast early one morning, the two juvenile females climbed onto the open walkway joining the main area with the small swimming pool. They walked among the deck chairs and regarded us as we stepped further back into the dimness under the covered area. Luckily, they did not seem keen to continue into the covered main area and climbed back down to the ground to skirt around it, peering in as they surveyed us. Then they came back onto the open walkway that joins the main area to the lodges, turning once again to look at us.

Curious juvenile female lion on the walkway Curious juvenile female lion peering into the main area

A juvenile female lion on the walkway at breakfast time; the juvenile female peering into the covered main area

Juvenile female & male lions at the walkway

Juvenile female and male lions at the walkway at breakfast time peering at the visitors

Upon leaving one of the guest lodges one morning, my step-daughter and grandson turned the corner from their deck to find one of the juvenile females loping towards them on the walkway, baring its teeth. Following the guidance given, they retreated quickly to their lodge, pulling shut the netted sliding door. The lion prowled around the deck on the other side of the netting for a while before losing interest. For much of the time during our stay, guides transported us between the main area and our lodges by bush vehicle, that being the only safe way to move about. You can be a few feet away from a lion, or any other wild animal, in a vehicle as long as you don’t stand up or make loud noises. The animal sees only the large shape of the vehicle and completely ignores it as being of no interest as either prey or predator.

Female lion ignorng a bush vehicle

A female lion eating a zebra ignoring nearby vehicle

The waterhole near the camp is frequented by numerous other animals, including a variety of antelope (wildebeest, impala, kudu etc), zebra, jackals, birds and warthogs. On one occasion a large male lion visited, causing the lion pride to disappear, returning only after he had moved on. It was only a matter of time before the abundance of prey gave the pride its opportunity…

A herd of zebra at the waterhole

A herd of zebra at the waterhole just before the kill

I saw the female lions running. Unfortunately, I was at my guest lodge just at the wrong time as the chase began. Everyone else saw the mother, one female and the male (rather desultorily) chasing a herd of zebra, their chosen target being on the verge of getting away when the second juvenile female ran in from the flank, causing the zebra to stumble into a tree. Once on the ground, the mother lion clamped her jaws around the zebra’s neck. My step-daughter and grandson had the best view of this while they were in the swimming pool about 100m away (sipping wine and diet coke as you do). One of the guides drove round in a vehicle, and nine of us (including the pool visitors in their dressing gowns) clambered in so that we could get close to the kill.

The adult female lion seizes the zebra by the tree which it ran into

It took around 15-20 minutes for the mother lion to suffocate and break the zebra’s neck. The zebra struggled every now and again, but eventually succumbed and we heard its death rattle. Meanwhile one of the juvenile females was tearing into the zebra’s stomach. She very carefully dissected the vibrantly coloured stomach out of the cavity, discarding it for the jackals and vultures to sniff around later. All of us were fascinated but had mixed emotions about the inevitability of nature and sadness at seeing such a beautiful animal die.
 

 

The adult female lion suffocates the zebra, watched and helped by one of her daughters

The zebra struggles in vain; finally the zebra is dead

The lion pride and its kill

The lions took it in turns to fill their bellies, putting their heads into the two cavities they had torn in the zebra’s body. The rest of the pride rested by the waterhole, drinking copiously. As each youngster came over after their turn at eating, they greeted their mother and licked each others’ faces, now covered in blood. It was as if they were saying “Thanks Mum”.

One of the juvenile female lions dissects the stomach

Juvenile and adult female lions drinking at the waterhole after the kill; juvenile male lion has had his fill

Mother lion licks the juvenile male's bloody face

One of the juvenile females is sated

Mother lion licks her daughter's face; it's a tiring business being a lion (juvenile male yawning)

 

 

Juvenile female goes back for a second feed; two cavities in the zebra's body

It wasn’t long before huge numbers of vultures and jackals were roaming around the carcass, waiting to seize a moment when the lions weren’t defending their prey. As we drove past on our way to a sleepout that night, there must have been 20 or more shadowy jackal outlines as close as they dared to get.

Jackals wait for their chance; vultures descend on the waterhole

By the next morning the zebra was more than half eaten, mostly just skin, legs and ribs left. As we watched a lion feed, we could see its head moving around under the zebra’s skin cleaning up the last meat between skin and ribs. When we returned later that day, the carcass had been picked clean.

 

A female lion picks at the carcass the next day


Nothing left 24 hours later

Given the number of kills lions and other big cats must make to survive, it’s apparently surprisingly rare to witness a kill. It’s more common to see lions either eating a dead animal or lying beside their kill with full bellies, unable to move. Having adopted the camp as their home, it is likely that this kill may be the first of more that will be witnessed. It comes with the added uneasiness of lions and humans living in very close proximity.

 

 

 

 

 


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