Friday, January 21, 2011

The hunt is on!

Nkuhuma lioness and cub 20 Jan 2011
Hi everyone!

What a stark contrast we had yesterday! Having seen the Nkuhumas and the Gijimas sleeping for most of the day, we suddenly got caught up in the pride hunting a buffalo as dusk fell over the African bush! Believe me adrenaline was pumping!

We left the slumbering cats to try and relocate the cheetah from that morning, but sadly we were not successful. We even heard Tingana/Shadow was seen crossing over MMM towards Impala plains, but even she kept to the thick bush. I had wanted to head back towards the lions as the temperature was dropping to see if they would become active, so we did just that.

As we drove down Buffleshoek cut line towards tamboti dam, where Karula is thought to be denning, a buffalo cow and calf, around 8 months, crossed the road heading towards the dam. There was evidence she was at the back of a herd that had already been there, so I didn't think too much of it.

Having no visual of her I continued on, briefly checking the wall in case Karula was around. Instead of a small spotted cat, I saw a large golden one! That female was joined by another who was followed by the cubs. Only then could I confirm it was the lions we had left sleeping a hour earlier!

Nkuhuma cubs 20 Jan 2011

They had clearly seen the potential meal and quickly set about the hunt. The cubs, being left on the wall out of harms way, watched the action from their vantage point. Just as I comprehended what was happening and realising the possibility the females might chase the cow back over the road, I started turning the vehicle towards where we had seen the buffalo.

As I did this, a loud bellow came from the cow.......she had seen the lionesses! The sound of a 700Kg adult buffalo crashing through the bush followed, signaling the start of the chase. Sure enough my prediction was right, the calf and mother ran for their lives back over Buffleshoek cutline, closely pursued by 1, 2, 3 flashes of gold. Just as I asked, "where's the 4th?", she cut in front of us, focused on what was happening ahead of her.

Nkuhuma lioness 20 Jan 2011

It was a mission to keep up through the bush, but luckily they hadn't gone too far. Two females stood looking at us on the fire break. It had ended as abruptly as it had started and on first impression, they had missed. They were still, there were no signs of a struggle and all was quiet. Thinking of it now, it was eerily quiet. With thick grass and trees obscuring the view I pulled forward, revealing the 3rd lioness with her jaws securely clamped around the calf's neck.

It was clear the old lady was extremely experienced and as kills go it was very swift. We had lost sight of them for only a few seconds, by the time we caught up to them, the calf was already succumbing to her efforts. Exhausted, she eventually released her grip to watch her cubs join them, closely followed by the males.

With the sun setting, the family sat down to eat under the watchful eye of the lioness, trying to catch her breadth. There was even a tender moment shared between her and a cub before they too joined in the feast, stating a claim to their share. Throughout the meal there was bickering and growling, blood curdling at times, reminding us of the power these majestic but deadly creatures.

Nkuhuma and Gijima males enjoying dinner 20 Jan 2011

Seeing them so docile and asleep, it is easy to forget what a formidable predator this cat is. Last night served as a reminder, don't ever fall into the trap of becoming blasé around these felines!

What a thrilling experience, getting so close to nature at her most extreme. A slice of reality that impacts us on so many levels, which provokes a number of emotions, from sadness at a loss of a life, to the excitement of being in the mist of raw action as it unfolds. It is a side of nature you rarely get to encounter, but one that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Written by Tara

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