There is always life around Tanda Tula Safari Camp, this part of the Timbavati just seems to teem with life. Everyday guests are greeted by some form of fauna, from the always peaceful Nyala, the scurrying squirrels or the boisterous warthogs making the lawn and watering hole their own. The wintery months are made even more incredible by the constant elephant, buffalo, impala and giraffe visitors as they come in from all angles to enjoy the camp dam. This is an incredibly immersive place through and through, the sights, the sounds, the smells, they are all right on your doorstep!
A few days ago, however, our guests were treated to a truly spectacular display of just how wild this place can be. I am confident in saying that what happened around the lodge will be in the memories of all who saw and heard it for the rest of their lives – myself included.
It all started with my good friend and colleague Chad Cocking, departing his house in the early hours of the morning, as we all do, in order to prepare the tea trays that our guests have come to know and love. However, as he left his house he heard the sound of a nearby group of buffalo and so naturally (well at least naturally for a nature guide) he decided to conduct a bit of an investigation. I know what you are thinking and no this is not at all dangerous… after a few seconds of shinning his flashlight around the nearby bush, suddenly there in the middle of the beam of light was a lioness! Needless to say, she quickly disappeared back into the darkness, followed by Chad having a rather nerve racking walk to kitchen where he then told us what he had seen.
Its always exciting knowing that lions are nearby the camp. This is due to the strange fact that everybody wants to see them, and this gives us a great chance in finding them first thing in the morning. It wasn’t until a bit later once we had all delivered the tea trays to our guests that the first major sounds of this incredible sighting would be heard. There is unmistakable sound that buffalo make when they are being attacked by lions and it was this very sound that perked our ears immediately. And so, it was with great excitement and eagerness that we hurried up and waited for our guests to appear. It was a bit of jostle though not knowing whose vehicle would be first to attain all of its sleepy guests and hit the road. All the time in the background the sound of a struggle between two of Africa’s titans ongoing.
Suddenly guests started to appear, and I couldn’t applaud my guests enough, all four of them, as they were the first in line that morning. As quickly as they took their seats, I started the vehicle. It wasn’t even 200 meters down the road when we encountered the scene. There under a tree, not more than 5 meters from the road lay a huge defeated buffalo bull. Upon the bull, what looked like a swarm of lions. The 9 lions of the River Pride, in all their glory had moved into the area through the cover darkness, they knew their target all along and they had hit it beautifully and square! We sat there as the sun came over the horizon and lit the scene and although the light was a bit dull the sound of cameras rapid firing began only to be drowned out by the sound of lions grumbling, mumbling, roaring, growling, ripping and chewing. We sat in awe as we watched raw nature unfolding in front of us until.
Later that day upon returning to the scene, we were greeted by a bunch of fat and lazy lions, a growing group of ever wishful hyenas and in the distance, a sight we did not expect, the Zebenine Pride – a group of just 2 lioness and their two small cubs. Surely, they had been drawn to the area by the sounds being produced and had thought maybe it could be a good scavenging opportunity. However, I am very certain the sight of 9 lions all gorging themselves was enough to make them think twice. And so, they lay cautiously and hidden a distance away. It was at this point where the decision to close the sighting was taken. After all ethics always need to be adhered too and we as guides would hate to be the cause of a pride fight and worse yet the death of two small cubs.
It wasn’t until later that night when things got exponentially more interesting, although this we did not see but rather heard. After the River Pride had come down to the lodge dam for a drink and lay beautifully in front of the lodge for us all to enjoy by spotlight things started to heat up. Suddenly the deep bellows of nearby lions could be heard, only to be matched by the high pitched whooping of hyenas responding. It was at this point that my wife, Brittany and I decided to leave the safety of our house to go outside and listen to the drama unfold. You will have to listen to the sound bites attached to this article in order to hear just what we did. It was amazing to just focus on hearing rather than seeing.
It was truly hard to deceiver just what was going on. However, the awesome sounds quickly made me jump to the conclusion that the Zebenine females along with their cubs had been attacked by the powerful group of 9 lions – this is a battle that they simply couldn’t win. My stomach immediately turned when I thought of the cubs as this sort of altercation almost always results in infanticide – a fancy word given to the killing of offspring. Another option that came to mind was that the Mbiri males, a coalition of two dominate male lions in the area and the fathers of the two cubs had also been attracted to the scene. This could have occurred by them simply hearing the commotion throughout the day or by the Zebenine females calling them into the area for a bit of backup. This option is likely as this is, after all, very much their territory and male lions seldom let something like this go unchecked in their own backyard! However, whatever was happening (and there was a lot) was enough to catch the attention of Africa’s very own security forces, the elephants. A nearby herd was just grazing across the river from us when this all started, and the gentle giants were having none of it! Its hard to know just how involved they became but they definitely made their presence and their lack of support for this madness known! A true rumble in the jungle.
After standing outside and recording for what seemed like an eternity things suddenly went very quiet, well other than the sound of two opposing hyena clans going to war. They had obviously been attracted to the kill but instead of giving the lions grief and trying to poach the kill from them, they ended up having their own turf war and forgetting almost completely about the possible meal at hand. They were however, far enough away for Britt and myself to hear the movements and heavy breathing of several lions of the river pride just in front of our house across the dry river in front of the lodge. This was made all the more special as the moon was almost full and so we could see them one by one emerging out of the riverine forest and into the river bed. They were panting heavily and moving slowly. They came to rest for a short time right in front of us as they all lay around and tried to catch their breath. This was short lived though, as suddenly there was an almighty roar that came from the kill sight. Quickly and quietly the group stood up and moved north up the riverbed and away from the area, giving everyone in the lodge a good look at them as the moved past all the tents and the main lodge area. They had evidently lost the rumble.
This next morning, we had no idea of what was going to greet us at the kill sight and there was loads of speculation and discussion before we set off. Once again, my amazing guests were first in line and thus we were first on the scene. The one thing I least expected to see, is exactly what we saw that morning. Once again just as the sun came over the horizon we were greeted by what was left of a once proud buffalo bull, lying under a tree not 5 meters from the road. Upon the bull, two lioness and two victorious lion cubs. The Zebenine pride had prevailed along with the help of their almighty, although sometimes rather infuriating, pride males – The Mbiri’s! Although the two males had already left the scene and headed back south to continue their courtship with the females of the Vlak Pride, no time to waste of course. There were still some hyenas around the kill sight but the Zebenine girls had no trouble in dealing out some harsh security while the cubs played around and ate what they could.
We will never really know what exactly happened that night, but I can gladly state that that was the most incredible sounding night I have ever experienced in the African wilderness. I cannot express just how overcome with joy I was when I saw those little cubs as they ran around the kill and roared (imagine a kitten roaring) with victory! This was an amazing thing to witness and I know that I will never forget it and judging by our guests’ reactions and the sheer amount of talking around camp involving this sighting, they never will either.