A few days ago the Tanda Tula Safari Camp guests were treated to a truly spectacular and unforgettable display of just how wild the Timbavati can be, made even more impressive by the fact that all the action happened right outside of their luxury tents. What took place will be in the memories of all who saw and heard this show for the rest of their lives, myself included.

It all started when Chad was departing from his house in the early hours of the morning in order to prepare the morning tea trays. However, as he left his house he heard the sound of a nearby group of buffalo and so automatically he decided to conduct a bit of an investigation. 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! She quickly disappeared back into the darkness, followed by Chad having a rather nerve racking walk to the kitchen where he then told the rest of the guiding team what he had seen.

It is always exciting knowing that there are lions near to camp. It reminds those of us who live here that our surroundings are wild and unpredictable, but also shows guests just how real this environment is. It also means there is a really good chance of finding them first thing in the morning. Once we had all delivered the tea trays to our guests the first incredible sounds of this amazing sighting were heard. There is an unmistakable sound that buffalo make when they are being attacked by lions and it was this very cry that caught all of our attention. So with great excitement and a little impatience, we waited for our guests to appear, not knowing whose vehicle would be first to hit the road. All the time in the background the sound of a struggle between two of Africa’s titans carrying on, fueling our already adrenalin filled bodies.

Luckily my four guests were the first to appear and as they took their seats I started the vehicle. It wasn’t even two hundred meters down the road when we encountered the scene! There under a tree, not more than five meters from the road lay a huge defeated buffalo bull and upon the poor beast what looked like a swarm of lions. The nine lions of the River Pride, in all their glory, had moved into the area under the cover darkness, focussing on their target and successfully bringing it down! We sat there as the sun came up over the horizon and lit the scene before us, the sound of camera’s rapid firing was drowned out by the grumbling, mumbling, roaring, growling, ripping and chewing from these ferocious predators.

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, what we did not expect, the Zebenine Pride – a group of just two lioness and their two small cubs. Clearly they had been drawn to the area by the deathly calls from earlier on in the day and had thought maybe it could be a good scavenging opportunity. However, I am very certain the sight of nine lions all gorging themselves was enough to make them think twice, and so they retreated and lay cautiously hidden away at a reasonable distance. It was at this point that the the decision was made to close the sighting. Ethics always need to be adhered to and in order to avoid a pride fight, or even worse, the death of two small cubs, this was a necessary call.

It was not until later that night that things got exponentially more interesting, although sadly we only got to hear this action and not actually witness it. The River Pride had come down to Camp dam for a drink and proceeded to lie down for everyone in camp to enjoy by spotlight, only then did things start heating up. Suddenly, out of the darkness the deep bellows of nearby lions could be heard, only to be matched by the high pitched whooping of hyenas responding.

From sound alone it was almost impossible to decipher exactly what was going on. But, the frightening sounds quickly made me jump to the conclusion that the Zebenine females and their cubs had been attacked by the powerful group of nine lions, a battle that they simply could not win. My stomach turned when I thought of the cubs, this sort of altercation almost always results in infanticide, the killing of offspring. The other option that came to mind was that the Mbiri males, the two dominate male lions in the area and the fathers of the two cubs, had also been attracted to the scene either by hearing the commotion throughout the day or by the Zebenine females calling them for a bit of backup. 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 who were grazing across the river when this all started were having none of it and they made their lack of support for this madness known!

After what seemed like an eternity things suddenly went very quiet, other than the sound of two opposing hyena clans, the lions were still. Attracted to the same kill these two clans ended up having their own battle, almost completely forgetting about the possible meal at hand. Suddenly there was an almighty roar that came from the kill site and the River pride must have decided to take this as their cue. One by one, in the moonlight, the pride members emerged out of the riverine forest and crossed the riverbed in front of the camp, panting heavily and moving slowly, they headed north and away from the area.

The next morning we had no idea of what was going to greet us and there was lots of speculation and discussion before we set off. The one thing that I least expected to see is exactly what we found! There upon the buffalo carcass were two lioness and two victorious little lion cubs, the Zebenine pride had prevailed! Along with the help of their almighty, although sometimes rather infuriating, pride males, the Mbiri’s, they had taken control of the kill. However, the two males had already left the scene and headed back south to continue their courtship with the females of the Mayambula Pride. There were still some hyenas around, but the Zebenine females had no trouble in dealing out some harsh blows which allowed the cubs to play around and eat what they could.

We will never really know what exactly happened that night, but I can definitely say that it was the most incredible sounding couple of hours I have ever experienced in the Timbavati. I can’t explain just how overcome I was with joy when I saw those little cubs as they ran around the kill and roared (imagine a kitten roaring) with victory! This was a rare and amazing thing to witness.Personall, I will never forget this experience and judging by our guests’ reactions neither will they.

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