Even if we spend all day, every day, observing wildlife in its natural environment there are always surprises, and once in a while we see things that we will never forget. That is what happened to long-standing guide Jospehat who has been guiding for Kafunta River Lodge in South Luangwa, Zambia, for 20 years.
Early in the morning on 28 June, our team operating the Luangwa River pontoon crossing called Josephat to say there was something very unusual to see only metres away from the path leading to the pontoon.
Lions had been heard roaring and fighting the two previous nights, and the result on that morning was gruesome.
Josephat and his safari guests headed straight for the site, and found renown male lion, Ginger, with a full belly, next to the carcass of a lioness.
Ginger is well known in South Luangwa as he is a very light-coloured lion, not quite white, but very pale compared to the other lions in the reserve. He is about eight years old and is part of what we call the ‘Luwi’ pride.
The dead lioness was about 10 years old and was the matriarch of the ‘Chichele’ pride. She has two cubs just under two years old. Together they were the last survivors of the pride, after the oldest female died last year.
According to Dr. Matthew Becker, CEO and Programme Manager of the Zambian Carnivore Programme, the Chichele female had not been in her usual area for the past week and had moved into the eastern side of the river where Kafunta is located. At the same time, the ‘Big’ pride (the biggest pride in South Luangwa totalling almost 30 lions) had been pushing into the area. The ZCP monitors the movements of some lions with the use of tracking collars, and their team was also called to the dramatic scene.
Dr. Becker continues by explaining that while no-one witnessed the lioness’ death, they suspect she was killed defending her cubs from either the ‘Big’ pride females or Ginger, either of which would likely have attacked the cubs. Prides attacking each other over territory is a common occurrence.
The fact that Ginger was eating of her carcass is very unusual, but not unheard of. Nevertheless, hunger would not have been the reason she was killed.
It is unsure what will happen to the Chichele cubs at this point, as they are still young. The ZCP has removed the lioness’ collar, and will try to monitor the cubs as well as they can.
Dr. Becker ends the conversation by acknowledging it is a sad death for the Chichele female but at least she died a lion’s death, doing what lions do. She had a great run and passed on a number of new lions into the valley.