Drama at Ngamo

Three days into my stay at Ngamo and I still haven’t seen any cats. I’ve heard them during the night and a couple of the guides reported seeing fresh tracks but no actual sightings yet.

Perhaps it was down to the cold wind blowing across the Ngamo plains but we were lacking a bit of urgency this morning; still dawdling over breakfast when we should have been out and about. Sibs had left with his clients an hour earlier, but here we were still enjoying the warmth of Camelthorn’s dining room and excellent coffee.

Lions on a kill

That all changed when Butch burst into the room.

“Come on, Come on. Sibs has found some lions on a kill. Don’t worry about your bags (we were moving to a different lodge today) I’ll get them loaded and catch you up.”

We didn’t need much persuading and were all on our feet and out of the door within about 30 seconds. Poor Helen had only just sat down and barely had time to grab a sausage from her plate as she joined the exodus. Vusa, who was waiting outside with the engine running, told us it would take about 20 minutes to get to where Sibs had seen the lions. It actually took us 25 minutes because we had to stop at the gate and sign in.

With a cold wind scouring the plains, the sun struggling to break through the clouds and Vusa driving a bit faster than normal game drive speed, it was a chilly ride.

As always seems to happen, when I am in a hurry to get somewhere there is game everywhere. Intent on getting to the lions we passed herds of wildebeest and eland without slowing down.

A few hundred metres ahead we saw a small group of zebras staring intently at something. Almost simultaneously I spotted two lionesses lying out in the open; but it was not the lionesses that held the zebras attention. They were far more interested in the two male lions lying just by the tree line; with the remains of a wildebeest carcass.

Vusa edged closer and turned off the engine. No sooner had he done so than the smaller/younger of the two males got up and walked in amongst the trees and flopped down.
The remaining male was not doing much, just lying beside the kill.
If things stayed like this it was not going to be a particularly exciting sighting.
Just as we were about to resign ourselves to watching lions doing nothing something attracted the attention of the remaining male.
It was one of the females coming to feed on the carcass.

The male lion was clearly unhappy about this and started growling ominously.

No sooner had the female stuck her head into the carcass than the male got up and tried to pull the carcass towards him.

The volume of the growling from both lions had risen when the male suddenly lunged at the lioness. Surprisingly she did not back off and we watched them wrestling over the carcass.

This attracted the attention of the other male who came back to watch.

This was no play fight, they were really going at each other. The lioness seemed to be holding her ground when the second male joined the fray, attacking her from behind. This drew in the second female who tried to help her sister.

It didn’t last long. The arrival of he second lioness spurred the two males to greater aggression and it was only moments before both females retreated.

For the male lions to be completely unwilling to share the kill was unusual, particularly as they were no longer feeding and it would almost certainly have been the lionesses that had made the kill.

Having asserted their superiority, and with the lionesses licking their wounds (literally) the younger of the males lay down and fixed his unblinking gaze upon us. He couldn’t have been more clear if he’d spoken to us. “You’ve been warned, keep your distance.”

One or two people in the vehicle found this quite unnerving – it was only a few days earlier that a guide in Hwange had been charged and killed by a lion.

To further assert his ownership of the carcass, the other male decided that now would be a good time to drag it off into the trees.

It had been a pretty intense few minutes; what had seemed like ages had in fact been just 13 minutes – according to the time stamps on my photographs.

As we drove away there was a good deal of sympathy expressed for the lionesses.

To give you an idea of how close we were; I was using a 70-200mm lens and most photos were taken in the 70-90mm range.
I wanted to keep a reasonable depth of field so I had set my aperture at f8 and didn’t want to go below a shutter speed of 1/640s, that meant that the ISO suffered a bit in the overcast conditions, with most images taken at about ISO1000.