Much to our dismay the lion sightings had been very quiet for several days. Some nights we would hear them calling close to the lodge but come the morning they had disappeared into the thick bush. In the mornings we were taunted by tracks all over the roads but no lions.
It was my guests’ first time in Africa and understandably they wanted to see lions. We were on the sixth game drive out of eight and I was silently starting to panic that we may not find any. Between the guides we had covered a large portion of the reserve over the last few days. With that in mind, I took a chance and made my way towards an area that is not renowned for its animal viewing; though arguably one of the most beautiful areas of the the Marakele National Park.
We drove slowly along a bumpy road taking in the stunning scenery. As the rocky road turned to sand, I could see the imprints of lion tracks on the road. My heart began to race; tracking any animal is an adrenaline rush but that is especially the case when it comes to lions. We were heading in the right direction but the bush was very thick. All eyes on the vehicle were searching. We could hear a tree squirrel alarm calling. I quickly moved us closer to the squirrel. He was calling frantically about 20 metres from the road in a tree and was looking straight down. The bush was so thick that even binoculars were useless.
I spent about 10 minutes listening to the squirrel and cursing the fact that we were so close but could not figure out what was alarming the squirrel. I was sure there was a predator close by and we couldn’t see it. Heavy hearted, we cut our losses and drove on. 300 metres up the road a guest shouted: “Lion!” I abruptly stopped the car and looked where she indicated. 10 metres off the road lay a lioness! All that could be seen was her ears but it was a lion nonetheless. It was a very difficult sighting, and only one row of guests at a time could see the lion so I had to continuously move the vehicle forwards and back. Whilst doing this we noticed what appeared to be a large cub with the lioness. The cub had never been recorded on the reserve so it was very exciting to be the first to see it. I desperately tried to take photographs of it through sticks and leaves but failed.
After about 20 minutes another cub joined the two lions! We were getting more excited by this amazing discovery. Then just as the sun began to sink, one of the cubs got up and moved towards the road.
We sat still and the little lion moved across the road and we could hear it feeding on something in the thick bush. A few minutes later the other cub gingerly came out and then sat looking at us.
A third cub then joined the second cub! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Now I desperately wanted the female to come out so I could get an ID on her. Kindly she obliged, and as she came onto the road, she was followed by a fourth cub!
Three of the cubs and their mother lay in the road watching us whilst the fourth chewed noisily on a carcass that we could barely see. It was incredible to sit and look at these five lions and know that we were the first people to have seen the young ones. This is a prime example of how we don’t always know what is happening even right under our noses in the bush – for eight months this clever lioness had avoided all vehicles and people. We were just lucky to be in the right place at the right time!