Thursday, May 10, 2012

MADIKWE WHERE THE LIONS ROAR

There is a certain quality to the African sun in midsummer that defies description. A thousand needles being punched simultaneously into skin perhaps comes closest to being accurate. Yet, here I am, sitting in the blazing sun, completely oblivious of the discomfort, on the deck of a lodge, watching keenly as a pride of lions stalks an unwitting warthog family. The elevated view of the deck affords a bird’s eye view of the hunt going down. From the right flank two lionesses move surreptitiously through the long grass, they separate and while one lioness moves directly towards the target the other starts flanking the prey by moving further south. Carefully they crawl through the blades of grass stopping every now and then to monitor the movement of the warthogs who are blissfully unaware that they are being keenly watched. North of the warthog group is the rest of the lion pride lazily spread in the cool shade of the acacia trees. The lionesses continue their hunt, stealthily they move in, ever closer.


As they come within striking distance, they simultaneously leap out from the grass and bear down on the group of warthogs. As in a synchronised movement the male lions and the sub-adults, lounging in the shade, spring to life and charge into the fray. The warthogs scatter in all directions kicking up clouds of dust. Pandemonium breaks loose and there is action in every direction. A loud squeal penetrates the still air and signifies a victorious hunt.


We rush out to the vehicles parked outside. However, as we approach the lion pride there is no sight of the male and no evidence of any kill. The group of lionesses and their sub-adult cubs are lying on the edge of the road mournfully staring into the empty landscape.

After observing the group for some time it becomes obvious that each member of the group is staring in the same direction with an unwavering intent. A sub-adult cub eventually emerges from the grass with smears of blood evident in the white fur around his mouth. We instantly head off in the direction from which the cub emerged and are rewarded only minutes later when we come across the alpha male and lying next to him is a tiny little warthog. He has allowed the cub to open up the carcass but has obviously then sent him packing. His total disinterest in his prize is puzzling. We watch until he rolls over and goes to sleep.


The engine rolls over and we head off back to the pride still lying next to the road. Their vigil continues but no one moves closer to the lion in the bush. This is very obviously a lesson in lion etiquette (otherwise referred to as behaviour by those who have studied Panthera leo).


We continue to wait to see if anything will change but as the golden light of the setting sun spreads its warmth the group are still firmly in place on the road still staring off into the distance. In the fading light one lioness shifts her position ever so slightly and we are privy to one of the symphonies of the bush. None of the most magnificent productions on stage can ever compare with this.



In unison the two lionesses start to roar followed by the male in the waiting group adding his magnificent tones to the aria. If there is a singular sound that can be identified with the continent of Africa, then this is it. A lion’s roar can be heard up to seven kilometres away. Should you be in close proximity to the lion, as we are, the sound waves reverberate through the air and through the body. It is the essence of Africa, a primeval call that drives most of us to ignore the searing heat of the sun and to bask in the romantic notion of a deep and dark Africa. Once experienced, this is the call that will bring you back to the African bush time and time again and for some, they will never leave.






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