who do you choose?

My plan for our morning game drive was to follow up on the lion spoor found in the southern section of the Sabi Sabi Reserve. Little did I know that we were going to have quite an indecisive drive and that it was going to end right on our doorstep!

I waited for my guests at morning coffee, while watching the open area in front of Selati Camp. An ominous blanket of mist hung over the carpet of green, threatening to block out the crisp blue sky. It wasn't long before all my guests were eagerly waiting and ready to go. We took a short drive along the river bank and then through the riverbed, before we came out onto the open area and waterhole in front of the lodge. The mist folded around us as we drove away from the lodge. We could clearly hear the nervous whooping calls of hyenas before we could see them. Driving towards the commotion we started seeing the mysterious figures not only of hyenas but of lions as well.

young male lion on safari at sabi sabi

A pack of ten hyenas was fretfully scampering from side to side mocking two young male lions. I recognised the two males immediately as the two that had left their pride almost six months ago to ensure their own survival. The territory they found themselves in that day was not their own, but that of their fathers'. The excitement of the hyenas aggravated the lions to roar. The roaring was of concern to us, for they had to know that this wasn't their place to roar or even to cause such a dramatic scene. We were more alarmed when a ranger called in a sighting of two older male lions on the remains of a kill less than one kilometre south of our location. The hyenas' calls were intimidating and overwhelmingly loud. The sound travelled far in the crisp clean morning. The mist had eventually cleared and it wasn't long before we were informed that one large male lion had got up and was heading in our direction. We were watching the standoff between the two eternal rivals, the hyenas and the young lions, when our tracker pointed to what looked like a bundle of grass with a flicking tail.

leopard at sabi sabi

To our amazement we all noticed the spots and realized that a male leopard was hidden in the grass not too far away from the pandemonium. He went unnoticed at least for this moment, by both the hyenas and lions which were caught up in their own conflict - and he was too close to make a run for it without being involved. We were in disbelief at the situation in which we found ourselves. Our disbelief turned into shock when we saw one of the older male lions running onto the scene with full force ready to defend what was rightfully his and to settle a few scores with some hyenas. The hyenas scattered in all possible directions and the young male lions submissively ran as fast as their legs could carry them. It looked like this was what the male leopard had been waiting for in order for him to make a quick and safe getaway. With the hyenas racing in all directions, two of them were heading straight towards the leopard which suddenly became aware of the fast approaching animals. My guests and I found ourselves being indecisive in choosing which animals we would like to follow. Looking over my shoulder I asked the guests to decide for themselves what interested them the most. Without hesitation they wanted to follow the male leopard with the hyenas on his tail.

young lion on safari at sabi sabi

As if we hadn't experienced enough action and turmoil we watched how the poor male leopard had to swallow his pride and choose a tree as his escape route. The hyenas challenged him with their mocking calls but quickly became bored with the leopard stuck high up in the tree not accepting their challenge. I looked over my shoulder yet again asking the guests which animal they chose to follow. The hyenas won the vote and off we went following them. We were right behind the hyenas scurrying back to the standoff scene when they sharply changed direction without any visible reason. They were led by their reliable noses which detected the smell of the rotten kill long before our inferior senses picked up on it. Knowing the whereabouts of the kill we decided to go ahead of the hyenas to get ourselves in position for when they made their appearance. We knew that with the speed the hyenas were moving, we were not going to wait for long.

The male lion that had stayed with the kill saw the hyenas first. Guardedly he crouched down by the kill, pushing back into the thicket right behind him. He was laying an ambush. At first the hyenas were hesitant, considering the risks involved, but their hunger got the better of them and it was only moments after they arrived that the first one went for the kill. Like an explosion the male lion burst out of the bush charging the reckless hyena. Adrenalin and a pinch of luck saved the hyena from a near death experience. With his full belly the male lion couldn't summon up more than a short aggressive charge, but that was good enough to scare off the hyenas.

Looking over my shoulder I could see the expression on my guests faces waiting for my usual question of who to follow; but this time the question was, do we choose coffee or hyenas?

by: kg maduse (selati senior ranger)

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