Monday, August 10, 2015

Sabi Sands Reserve - Lions on the African Plains Forever

The magnificence of a Male Lion with his mane in full flow
In the wake of the what has to be termed a Paradigm Shift for lions in the wild and on Lion Day I am reminded of the many experiences I have had with lions on the plains of Africa.

Getting close to lions ranks right up there with being some of the most exciting experiences that any one person can hope to see today. It is the one factor that I think has galvanised the world into action post Cecil the Lion. However, it is one thing seeing a single lion strutting his stuff out there in the African bush and an entirely different experience when one is privy to the might of the pride.

In areas where lions are pressurised by other pack animals such as hyenas, the pride becomes paramount to survival and as such even male lions that can be solitary will form their own prides which we call coalitions.

Happening on a coalition of male lions in the bush is a heart stopping event. The sheer power that a male lion demonstrates just by its presence is magnified a hundred times by the appearance of four or five male lions together moving in unison through the tall grass their thick manes swinging through the air as they gracefully pick their way forward.
African animals do not pass water without drinking.
It is late afternoon and the sky is stormy and grey. Not ideal weather for photography but as a diehard Safari-er with a camera in hand there is no question as to whether I will be on a ready vehicle or not. Not far from the Lodge we encounter our first pair of lions who appear to be mating. They are nervously watching the surrounding bush. Suddenly, it becomes evident why they are nervous. As they beat a hasty retreat heading off into the East four magnificent male lions emerge from the brush. Their intent becomes evident as they head for the river we have just crossed.

An ideal photographic opportunity is in the offing. A river filled with water will impede the progress of the lions, however, they are moving across the plains and a river crossing by lions is not an everyday event.
Cats do not like water. Neither do lions, even if they are the mightiest Kings of Africa.
Soon we are positioned on the opposite side of the river and I have a prime position. The nose of the vehicle is just at the waters edge and is turned ever so slightly  downriver. I am able to get my lens low and I can wait for the shot.
Warily moving through the water, lions feel very vulnerable in situations that they can't control.
The lions approach the water and stop at the edge to slake their thirst. No African animal will pass a water source without quenching their thirst. But, unfortunately, the water is moving too fast for a reflection shot. However, the first lion scans the opposite bank of the river a gingerly dunks his paw into the water. The paw seems to have a life of its own and shoots back out spraying water into the air. Determination wins the day and inexorably he puts his paw back into the water. Soon he is up to his knees and the displeasure of the experience is written all over his face.
Up to his belly in water this lion is not comfortable
Wide eyed he keeps scanning the horizon and soon the other males have joined him in the crossing. It is a heart stopping moment. He completely ignores me and moves right past me so that I can almost reach out and touch him as he goes by. One by one the four males move past each one intent on scanning the horizon.
The demise of an arch enemy, the hyena is despatched without ceremony.
Soon they are on the other bank and the exciting moment has passed only to be followed by an almighty roaring and screeching. A lone young hyena has strayed across the path of these mighty beasts. Within seconds the hyena has been despatched his life ended far too soon.

As the sun sets we are privy to the call of the lion as it rolls across the plains. It reverberates right through my body as if I don’t exist. It is a call that I yearn to hear and that keeps me wandering through the African plains. It is the call that lets me know I am home.

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