lions doing what lions do best

It's amazing how certain moments in life stand out like it was printed in bold in your book of memory. I received guests who were new to South Africa and to the bush experience. I remember meeting them at high tea; it feels like it happened just yesterday. After introducing myself to the parents I turned to greet their son but before I could say hello the boy said: "Hello, I came to see lions and what lions do best".

lioness at sabi sabi

As we left Bush Lodge for our first game drive, I could not help but wonder if this boy knew that there are two things that lions do extremely well and not just one. Determined to meet the boy's request we left the lodge searching for any clues or tracks that would lead us to the Southern Pride of lions.

Even though our focus was on finding the lions we still saw a lot along the way. I was not the only ranger with a "lion guest request" and with the help of a few other rangers we tracked and eventually found them. When we arrived at the lions we could barely see them. They were doing one of the things that lions do best, sleeping.

Except for the occasional turning over or flicking of the tail, they barely moved. We found ourselves staring for quite some time at the lions' seemingly lifeless bodies before we decided to leave. I told the boy that he should not be fooled by these sleepy lions but that sleeping is just one of the two things that lions do best. I was a bit disappointed in the lions for sleeping but I planned to keep my ear to the ground in the next few drives to find out what those lions were up to.

The rangers found the lions the next morning in a different area but it was unbelievable because they were still sleeping. What was even harder to believe was that they kept sleeping in the same spot for the duration of the morning drive. I focused on other animals during our safari, not wanting to return to sleeping lions.

lion kill while on safari game drive at sabi sabi

Listening to the rangers I knew that a lot of them were going to look for the lions during their afternoon game drive. I had the same plan but I decided that I would try to outwit the sleeping cats that night by only going to them later in the evening after we had stretched our legs and watched the sun set. We saw a beautiful breeding herd of elephant and a small herd of male buffalo. The radio call came through while we were with the buffalo in front of Bush Lodge - they had found the lions just north of where we were, still sleeping. I kept away from them until almost the end of our game drive. To my disappointment the lions were still sleeping when we got to them. I just couldn't believe this. I sat in silence with disbelief, staring at them, when the first glimpse of hope made its appearance. One female sat up and started grooming herself. Soon to follow the first female's example was another, and slowly but surely they sat up one by one, grooming themselves. I was relieved.

lion kill while on safari game drive at sabi sabi

Slowly, one after the other, the lionesses got up and in a single file they walked down the road away from us. Not surprisingly, the two males kept grooming themselves. I decided to leave the males behind and to follow the rest of the pride. I kept a safe distance as we drove parallel to the line of lionesses. Before we could reach the leading female she stopped, sniffed the air to her right and without hesitation she changed direction. She was heading in Bush Lodge's direction. At that moment it dawned on me that the buffalo we saw earlier were in the direction the lioness was heading. For that moment I considered whether I should go around the open area to meet the lionesses on the other side or should I follow them over the open area? I didn't even finish my thoughts when we all suddenly heard branches breaking and the lionesses that were still reasonably close to our vehicle started running. I had to think on my feet, or should I say wheels. I took off in the direction that the pride was running. There was no time to explain to the guests and all I could get out was for them to hold on and sit close together avoiding the branches. I didn't know where the lions were going but I stayed close behind the last female knowing that she would lead us to the action. The unknown action was confirmed when we heard the muffled distress call of a buffalo.

lion kill while on safari game drive at sabi sabi

I had to bring the vehicle to a sudden halt when we came around a bush and onto a scene that none of us expected to see. Holding a buffalo by its throat and staring back at us were the strong yellow eyes of a male lion. The Southern Pride successfully brought down the buffalo and we watched it exhaling its last breath. The guests and I were overwhelmed by what had just happened and that we were witness to this special event.

lion kill while on safari game drive at sabi sabi

The fierce and competitive growling of each lion trying to find its feeding spot died down just as we heard Bush Lodge's blowing of the dinner horn. We were all surprised to hear the horn, not realizing that we were that close to the lodge. We sat for quite some time before I found it appropriate to announce that we needed to return to the lodge for dinner ourselves.

lion kill while on safari game drive at sabi sabi

At dinner that evening I looked at the boy, smiled and said: "Now you have seen the two things that lions do best."

by jaap van dijk (bush lodge ranger)

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