There are many opportunities to make a fool of yourself when you’re a field guide. I was once leading a group on a game drive at Mombo, when we came across a pride of lions. Mombo is well known for its healthy lion population. We spent some time with the lions, and I carefully described what we were seeing, estimating ages and talking about the pride structure, which included two slightly smallish-looking young males.
Much later that same day, as it was getting to the end of our drive, we swung by the lions once again. This time there was another vehicle from camp in the sighting. I pulled up nearby, and began quietly talking to my group again, aware that I needed to add some new information to what I had already shared with them in the morning. I was busy mentioning how it wouldn’t be too long before the two young males in the pride would be ready to move off on their own, when the guide in the vehicle alongside caught my attention. “They’re females,” he tried to whisper. I didn’t hear him well enough, so he said it again, louder this time. “Ah,” I responded, sheepishly. As I was not based at the camp, and was travelling with my guests from one to the next, I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t looking at young males, but rather a pair of young female lions that have grown manes. The Mombo guides had been seeing the very unusual lions for some months and I had heard the news, but during the excitement of the sighting, I had forgotten all about them.
I felt like a real idiot, but fortunately the lions were interacting with one another, and my blunder took second place. Back in the late 1980s there was another lioness with a mane, nicknamed Martina (after the tennis player) by the camp guides. She was seen regularly at Mombo until eventually her entire pride drifted toward the edges of the game-drive areas and the sightings stopped. There were no more sightings of lionesses with manes until 2008, when a pride new to the area began to be seen around camp. This pride had two young females with quite substantial manes.
Clearly Martina’s genes were still out there, or perhaps others that were just very similar to hers. Nowadays I take a careful look at the back end of lions before I begin to talk!
Martina below, followed by the young lionesses, who also appear at the start of this blog.