The morning was crisp with the mist hanging over the bushveld while the sun gently rose. The air was still and the guests were filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation – what was this morning going to bring? Little did they know that they were going to bear witness to a saga that has been unfolding in the Sabi Sands for some time. We responded to a sighting which was reported in the north eastern part of the reserve, a male lion had been sported but there was no confirmation of his identity due to the brief visual. As the guests and myself had been treated to a fantastic leopard sighting the night before, we made the decision to see if we could move into the area to relocate on the male. After searching for approximately 20 minutes, we were greeted by this regal figure walking down the road – it was the Kruger male. It was unusual to see him this far north east as he has been in hiding in the southern part of the reserve close to Earth Lodge. During his time in the south, he joined up with Floppy Ear and the 3 other females and was even seen mating with the same female that Solo had been mating with only a few days before. Was the displaced king returning to his territory to reclaim it for himself?
There was a nervousness about him, and this was confirmed when he darted into the thickets to the side of the road. This was unusual as he always displays a confidence which almost borders on arrogance – something was clearly wrong. We lost visual and spent some time driving around the block to try and relocate him but sadly to no avail-he was moving quick and it would be difficult to find him again. After consulting with my experienced tracker Meshack, we decided to do a loop in a last ditch effort. At virtually the exact same spot that we lost the Kruger male, we found Floppy Ear walking down the road. Despite her age, she is still an impressive female who has always had an affinity with the Kruger male. She was sniffing various bushes to establish his whereabouts and trying to get to him. She was so focused on finding him that she actually walked straight up to the vehicle and brushed past Meshack`s leg, who turned round to the guests with an infectious smile. We were hoping that she would lead us to him but it was clear to see that she was hot on his heels. She stopped in a dip and while she was trying to pick up on his scent I thought I would scan around the bush for any sign of the elusive cat. It was then that I noticed behind the vehicle a large male with an authoritive posture, however, this was not the male we were looking for, this was in fact the challenger – it was the unmistakable Solo.
Solo and Floppy Ear had an altercation about a month and a half ago when she fort off Solo and the Eyrefield male to try and protect her two young cubs. That was sadly the last time that I saw the cubs, with the defiant female exhibiting puncture wounds and claw marks on her lower back and hind legs. These scars are still visible, leaving the mark of that day and clearly she remembers this because upon seeing Solo made a hasty retreat. Solo set off in pursuit, with his full belly from a recent kill swinging like a giant pendulum. What were his intentions the guests asked – a question that could not be answered. Was he looking to bring swift justice on this disobedient female who refused to bow to the new regime or was she caught in between the two opposing males? The female accelerated through the veld constantly stopping to check on her pursuers position, trying to work out her next move. With the weight of his stomach being an inhibiting factor, Solo fell further behind the experienced female. Eventually he gave up on the chase and decided to rest in a Tambotie thicket, while the female made her way into the centre of the reserve.
This power struggle between these males has been going on for some time and will continue to do so until physical contact is made. The Kruger male fears this coalition from the north while Solo and the Eyrefield male are aware of the strength and experience of the Kruger male who has held a territory for some time. When will the time come which will bring either a new reign or the continuation of a dynasty?
As humans we are constantly trying to impart our own emotions to the actions of these beautiful creatures. As soon as this happens, guests don’t just experience a sighting, they experience an interaction. A connection that is emotional and binding.