The endless complexity of the bush ensures that anyone with a passion and love for this place will never be without something to learn and due to this I will be a student for life. With a couple of days off, away from guests, our assessor, Andre van Zyl was conducting training walks on our reserve. I joined him and his students just to get some more time in the bush on a student level and brush up on a few things.
The first days walk started in the afternoon heat as we headed to an area known as “Hells Gates”. This is a notoriously dangerous river crossing when on foot as it is frequented by many grumpy old buffalo that would not hesitate to kill you if you didn’t notice them. Myself, Andre and the lead rifle started to make our way through the crossing quietly analysing the technical aspects of the crossing so as to not disturb anything that may be in the riverbed. We made our way through the crossing without incident and as we popped out on the other side, we turned and saw the Southern Pride lying on the open area no more than 60 metres from us. We quickly and quietly slipped back into the river to fetch the students on the other side and take them quietly across to see the lions.
It was the perfect encounter as we were able to get in and see them and pull out without disturbing them. Once we had retreated to safety we then had a debrief on the approach and all giggled at the fact that after so cautiously going through the crossing so as not to be killed by buffalo we found the one thing we least expected to find, the lions.
We then headed back to camp and I volunteered to take some of the guys in to see the lions once the game drive had gone through. Most of the students had never been so close to wild animals and the furious clicking of cameras said it all. We sat with them for a while as they slept quietly. As it drew dark and our spotlights were out they started to get moving for their evening hunt.
We watched as the pride slipped into the river that we had crossed earlier that afternoon to find them only to be surprised that one of the females was lagging far behind. She was limping severely and had a very swollen joint. It appeared that the last buffalo they pulled down must have injured her and the injury site had been infected by the Bovine Tuberculosis that all of our lions suffer from and most of the lions in the Kruger have. This form of TB was brought into the park when the buffalo from the park used to feed with TB infected cattle and then took it back into the Kruger. The lions, which fed on these buffalo, then started to contract the disease. Now there is major research into what the effects the disease is having on all the animals in the Kruger. This female will recover from the injury and this particular TB infection but the disease will definitely shorten her lifespan.