Written and photographed by: Greg McCall-Peat
As someone who has worked in the safari industry for over 13 years, I have seen some amazing things. However, there are always opportunities for us to see things for the first time, regardless of how long we have been out in the bush.
One particular evening in the Timbavati proved just that, when I had the chance to witness multiple displays of power from two male lions in one special sighting.
That morning two lions were found on one of their expansive territorial patrols through the southern sections of our Umlani Bush Camp traversing area. I was a long way off but made my way toward the area as I had guests on the vehicle who were big cat fanatics, much like me. We all agreed there was no better way to spend your morning than with big male lions as they go about their business, so we had to try to find them.
On arriving at the sighting we found the males resting in thickets after their long patrol. It wasn’t the amazing sighting that I had in mind but we still managed to get a few photos of them through the odd gap in the vegetation before we decided that the afternoon might provide us with a better chance of seeing them more active and out in the open.
On returning to the male lions in the afternoon we found them sleeping, so decided to have our sundowner drinks stop and return to them after dark. Later that day, they were indeed slightly more active – grooming each other, yawning and stretching. It was then that the first display of power happened.
It was what we had been waiting for.
The two males began to roar! Now this was something I have witnessed before, but you can never get enough of it. That sound, which can be heard up to eight kilometres away by the human ear, was coming from the lions lying a mere four metres from us, and reverberated through the vehicle and into our inner beings. It is something that cannot be described; it can only be experienced in person.
The males roared once more before getting up and heading off to continue their patrol. They moved along the road, which gave us several opportunities to loop around ahead of them and have them walk right past the vehicle. It is then that you realise the sheer size of a male lion. Even when sitting up in a Land Rover, they are almost eye level with you and so close that you could reach out and touch them as they stroll by.
As we followed the males, we realised they were heading more or less in the general direction of an old leopard kill, and we were curious to see if they would try to get to the scraps. One of the males stopped and lifted his head up, taking in deep breaths of a scent carried on the breeze that only he could smell. We were about 800m away from the leopard kill, but he smelt it and started making his way straight towards it. We raced to get there before him so that we could get prime seats to watch him scale the tree and claim his small prize.
It took a couple of minutes for the male to arrive. When he did, he searched the area with his nose to the ground trying to find the source of the scent. He got to the base of the tree that the kill was in and looked up into the branches, catching sight of it. We all expected him to leap up the tree trunk, but instead he moved directly below the kill and reached up on his hind legs, grabbing the kill and pulling it down to the ground.
It was something I had never seen before and the fact that he was able to reach up to that height was just awe inspiring. However, he soon realised that it wasn’t much of a prize after gnawing on the dried piece of skin, so he moved off after his brother to continue their patrol.
We left the sighting knowing that what we had seen was one of those sightings that will remain in our memory bank for the rest of our lives. It’s not often that plans work out when on safari. We often set out with what we want to achieve in mind, only to go off course thanks to other marvels of the bush. However, on this night all our plans played out to perfection, leaving us playing the scenes we had just witnessed over and over again in our minds.