Courteney Blunden is one of the founders of the Africa on Foot camp in Klaserie Private Nature Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park area. He is also a keen conservationist with a passion for lion pride dynamics.
Boasting over 10 years guiding experience within a variety of private Kruger reserves, Courteney has been privileged to work with some of the most notorious lion prides in South Africa, including the Bartia Brothers in Madikwe Game Reserve, the Southern pride and Mighty Mapogos in the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve and the dynamic Ross pride in the Klaserie/Timbavati region. Currently based at Klaserie, Courteney shared with me his intimate experiences with the lions there.
Why the keen interest in lion prides?
I have always been fascinated by lions. Lions are unique in the fact that they are truly social and live in family groups known as prides; they hunt cooperatively, defend territory together and will even rear one another’s young should the need arise. No other cat on earth in a natural system has this type of family unit.
What has been your most breathtaking ‘lion’ moment?
One of my most memorable lion sightings in Klaserie happened in 2008. It was nearing sunset and we were watching the Ross pride lazing around a small pan very close to the Africa on Foot camp. At this stage the pride consisted of 20 adult females and four tiny cubs. The dominant male, Scarface, happened to be away on patrol. We were enjoying the moment when suddenly the entire pride started to walk directly towards a small open area. Deep inside a purple-pod terminalia thicket, on the edge of the clearing, were two buffalo bulls, lying low.
In a matter of seconds, the pride pounced and a deadly fight began – it was chaos. One of the bulls was overpowered and the second charged off with a lioness clinging to its back and another hanging onto its neck. The whole struggle took about 20 minutes but it felt like an eternity. The very tough and lucky bull named ‘Dagga Boy’ managed to escape with a new collection of war wounds, including a torn-off nose. For a few years after the showdown he was spotted in the reserve sporting a unique scarred nose! To witness a kill in the wild is amazing but to see a battle like this was truly exceptional.
What has been your most heartbreaking moment ?
A truly heartbreaking part of nature is to witness young animals die. You never ever get used to it no matter how often it happens. Lion cub mortality is very high in a natural ecosystem and it goes against all that is human for us to not interfere. The Kruger National Park and its surrounding reserves have a no-interference policy which we, as safari lodge owners, are bound to. Interfering is illegal; taking animals from the wild is poaching.
In 2012 one of the Ross pride females gave birth to two white cubs. The first cub was killed and eaten by an old injured female right in front our guests on a morning safari. The lioness was badly injured and her only means of survival was to prey on other lionesses’ cubs.
A few months later the earlier mother gave birth to another two cubs, which meant a second white lion cub for the Ross pride. The pride was doing well and the cubs were getting strong. One night they hunted a giraffe bull and during the hunt the mother lion was badly hurt and rendered unable to feed her young. The condition of both mother and cubs deteriorated rapidly.
About 15 days later the mother tried to move her cubs to join the rest of the pride but before reaching them she was found dead, with her two cubs willing her back to life. The small white lion cub died later and when the pride found the tawny cub the following morning, it too had expired.
How often have you seen the white lions?
There are two white females who are part of the Giraffe pride. This 28-strong group roams beyond the Klaserie boundary in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. The Ross pride males are also the Giraffe pride males, which means there is no threat from the Timbavati. We see this pride every few weeks as it traverses a wide territory, crossing Timbavati and ending inside the Kruger Park.
When is the best time to visit Klaserie to see lions?
Lion-viewing in the Klaserie is great throughout the year.
For more about Klaserie Private Nature Reserve and the Africa on Foot camp, go to www.sundestinations.co.za.