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Trip Reports

Central Kalahari Game Reserve: Part 3

written by Monique Fallows

A jackal in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

Posted on Thursday, 23 February 2017

Read part 1 & 2 here.

 

Part 3

Black-Maned Lions

The CKGR is probably most famous for its lions, and even more so for seeing Black-maned lions. Even so it’s not guaranteed you will see them and it takes a lot of time looking for them, mostly just before sunrise and just after sunset.

Our January 2017 trip was to become the Trip of the Lion. We saw them everywhere and every day. It almost became comical…oh, there another mating pair. Or, oh, there’s another coalition.

One of the highlights without a doubt was to lie in our tent every night and listen as the great cats roared and called to one another. It doesn’t matter how deep asleep I am, I think I am programmed to wake up at that special sound. I have often written about this and honestly, it does not get better than this experience.

 

Our first lion encounter took place at one particularly wild campsite. We have camped here many times before and I always think to myself that this camp is the perfect Lion’s Den as it is situated in the dense tree island above the riverbed.

Sure enough as we approached this year Chris spotted a shape about 500 meters from camp.

“What’s that brown thing?” he said. Like it would be anything other than a lion!

On closer inspection is was not one, but two beautiful males complete with black manes.

At least we had now met our camp mates and the fact that we set up our tent in the biggest open space, exposed to the hot midday sun was definitely in reaction to our possible day and night time visitors.

 

We went in search of them just before sunset. We found them and as dusk approached they slowly began to wake, stretching lazily before sauntering down from the bush scrub line and into the riverbed, offering a waking yawn here and there.

The younger male who was in his absolute prime began to walk down the dirt track. Chris anticipated his direction and as such we drove ahead and stopped about 150 meters ahead of him.

Unfazed he continued to walk down the road and towards us. When he was a few short meters from us he veered off to skirt the car before walking off into the African sunset, his partner in crime not far behind.

It was a special moment shared with a Kalahari King.

 

 

Hostile Lions

A few days later we headed south and on our arrival at Piper’s Pan we came across a mating pair accompanied by another lioness. We found them again later that evening and also the following morning. The pair looked exhausted and were no doubt towards the end of their mating period.

It was while we were sitting with them in the early morning that we started to hear faint roaring coming from the other side of the large pan. “Our” lions did not answer their call and slowly moved off in the direction away from the roars.

We went looking for these new lions and came across two magnificent brothers, most certainly in the prime of their lives. At this stage we did not know if they were part of the pride or not.

We found the mating pair again later that afternoon. Along with the other lioness they were sitting up in the thicket between the 2 pans. The male in particular looked utterly spent. Besides the vigorous mating it was doubtful that they had eaten for a few days.

 

 

During this late part of the afternoon the pan was completely alive. There had been a termite eruption and everything from hordes of bat-eared fox, tens of kites, abdim storks, crows, a couple of falcons and jackals were gorging themselves on the bountiful meal of flying ants.

After taking in this scene we went in search of the other 2 males and found them making their way slowly towards the other lions. They of course didn’t know where the other lions were and spent a lot of time sniffing the bushes, no doubt trying to pick up on the female scent. They approached ever closer and we got the feeling that these guys were definitely not friendly.

They approached within meeting distance just as the sun was slipping below the horizon.

A giraffe found itself caught between the 2 lion groups and an intense moment followed. We watched as the giraffe watched both parties of lions as it weighed up its best escape route. It eventually scampered off just as the 2 brothers came within sight.

In the instant that the mating lion looked up and saw the 2 approaching brothers we could tell from the look that passed over his face and the intensity in his eyes that he knew he was in deep trouble.

Even though he was completely sapped of energy he let out a defiant roar and then immediately started to beat a hasty retreat.

The 2 lionesses ran for cover.

60 meters away the other 2 males let out a series of shuddering roars and then followed in pursuit of their adversary.

 

The type of run surprised me. Although everything about a male lion is heavy and built for high impact I still expected in a situation like this for the run to be a fast one.

Instead it was more of like a fast canter, I suppose because the chase was expected to be over a long distance.

A pride takeover is not something we have witnessed before and considering it happens only once per dominant male it is an event that is not often observed. Although it was very exciting and dramatic neither Chris nor myself wanted to see a lion being killed. We had grown quite attached to him over the last few days and from the weakened state he was in we couldn’t see that he would stand any chance.

As darkness began to fall the pursuit continued over about 4 to 5 kilometers. Throughout the time all three lions continually roared in the loudest of fashions. At one point one of the pursuit lions collapsed in exhaustion. He went down like a ton of bricks but within a couple of seconds he was back up again, chasing for all he was worth. I guess the adrenalin was really kicking in now.

Interestingly there were times when the 2 lions seemed to be within striking distance but they held back. It seemed as if their intent was merely to chase their competitor out of his territory rather than engage in a full contact battle.

The chase proceeded past our campsite and with it now being too dark to follow them we went back to camp and made a barrage around our tent using car, table and chairs. I had visions of duelling lions coming flying through camp and didn’t want to take any chances!

We settled down to listen from the safety of our tent. Soon all was quiet and we became thankful that we didn’t hear any sounds of a lion fight.

We were awakened at about 11pm with the 2 brothers no more than about 70 meters from our tent. They must have successfully driven the other male out and they had returned in search of their grand prize, the 2 available lionesses.

They began roaring to make their intentions clear and it was as loud as I have ever heard it. The ground was shaking and inside our tent I was shaking too!

We kept absolutely dead still, ears straining as we heard them both breathing deeply from the exertion. Slowly the roars moved further away although we would awake throughout the night to their constant calls.

A pride takeover is not something we have witnessed before and considering it happens only once per dominant male it is an event that is not often observed.

The following morning we found the 2 brothers. They didn’t even lift their heads to look at us as we approached closer, they were that exhausted. And in fact for the next 16 hours they lay flat in the same spot with no intentions of moving.

We didn’t see them for the whole of the next day and the day after that we went in search near to where we had last seen them.

As we rounded the corner one of them came bursting out the bush and ran right past the car.

On the other side of the pan his brother had found one of the lioness and was now in pursuit of her. The one that had been left behind sprinted to catch up and when he got close to his brother a short but intense fight ensued. They came to blows mid-air with fisty cuffs. The fight was extremely brief before the less dominant male backed off.

The dominant lion continued after the lioness with the other lion cutting a forlorn figure as he roared and lagged behind. All that effort of chasing off the other male and in the end he had lost the female!

As he reached the end of the pan the second lioness called ever so quietly from the side of the pan he had just come from. He stopped and listened and then set off in search of her at jog pace.

After having spent all that energy he got to within perhaps a 100 meters of her and still couldn’t see her. She was playing coy and didn’t call again. This poor lion was so confused and so desperate that he then ran back across the pan yet again to look for the other lioness. We are talking about many kilometres he had now run.

We had to move on that morning and after we had finished packing up camp we gave one last look only to see the poor chap heading back across the pan again…perhaps he would eventually find his well-deserved lioness!

It was an incredible piece of behaviour to witness. What fascinated me the most was how the 2 brothers literally hunted down the other male…truly frightening if you are a lion and once again really making one realise how tough it is to be a lion.

We didn’t have great photographic opportunities and I can only hope that my description somehow conveys the intense drama that we witnessed.

 

 

A Finallion at Sunset

As our trip progressed around the park we continued to find more of both lion and cheetah and enjoyed a few more spectacular thunderstorms. It was becoming one of our best bush trips for a very long time!

On our last evening we had planned to have sundowners on a road that overlooks beautiful Leopard Pan. We had had a quiet day and not expecting too much we thought we would enjoy our last evening admiring the view and enjoying the quiet.

Our drinks were just poured as we heard the first roar rip over the pan. Of course there was no debate and the drinks were put on hold as we went in search of our final lion.

Desperately low on fuel we didn’t have the luxury of venturing too far and fortunately for us we found him at the top corner of the road just a few kilometres away.

He sat himself down there and waited a few moments to see if his call was answered. Behind him the remnants of a thunderstorm sky could be seen. On the horizon a very thin opening provided a tiny gap through which the setting sun could emerge.

When the lioness did not return the male’s roar he began to let off a series of some of the deepest and throatiest bellows a mere 15 meters away from us. We watched intently as he used his entire body to emit the loudest noise possible, even his tail could be seen moving in the effort.

The vibrations at such close quarters were running up and through the car so we were in full sensory overload. Even the bushes around him were moving slightly from the vibration.

He sat that like roaring to his heart’s content for a good 10 minutes. While he was doing so the sun popped out between that gap throwing the most glorious pink and crimson colour across the sky.

It was one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen and to have a Kalahari King in full roar to go along with it was just magical.

 

 

We didn’t need such a spectacular end to an already perfect trip but wow, thank you to a very special Kalahari for its final parting gift!

 

Read about a 2012 trip to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve here

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Central Kalahari Game Reserve

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