The Park That Produces or, When a Lion is a Cougar
We woke up extra early at Kwihala Camp this morning so we could get to the three killer brothers on the elephant carcass by sunrise. We were concerned that they would have eaten their fill during the night and be busy doing what lions do best – lyin’ around. When we got there just ahead of the magic light, the pride’s elusive five females and one male were there on the carcass.
So Roger did what Roger does; shot the sh*t out of it. Things got better, or worse depending on which side you were on. The sun rose, gently. Then one male lion that was lying up in the dry riverbed, took exception to one of the females (it was probably something she had said earlier), and went for her. A second male joined and chased her with violent intent. It was a high alarm situation. She limped back some time later.
Then some jackals arrived and played around with their health insurance. After a while the lionesses wandered off into the dry riverbed. They were mostly old, some with stubbed teeth. The young killers had clearly made them their own and had mated with them, we were informed by super-guide Pietro Luraschi.
One of the most war-worn torn, that was clearly lactating, went last and lay in the shade of a spreading sycamore fig, and softly crooned. Two cubs came running out of the undergrowth and went to greet one of the males at a small waterhole he had just dug (lions dig for water, who knew!). The males tolerated their niggling, as young ones will, sure evidence they were his.
They were followed by two tiny tots, no more than two weeks old. The two tinies sort of stumbled on their short legs over to Mom who they licked and nuzzled, then went to suckle. After a while all eight adult males were involved in doing the lying around thing as the four cubs played.
That was when the jackals dashed in furtively to steal tidbits from the carcass. At one point the two littlies stumbled up the far bank and we were alarmed when a bold jackal trotted after them: predators will take every opportunity they get to kill one another or, better still, one another’s offspring.
The cubs as well as all the sleeping adult lions were unaware of the impending danger to their family succession plan. The tiny cubs disappeared into some dense shrubbery and the wily jackal followed. I’m not sure quite what it means when people say “my heart was in my throat” but it did seem that way.
After a long wait, the cubs came rolling out the bush, down the riverbank and rushed over to mom. “Mom, Mom, guess what just happened….” Our hearts sank lower and our throats cleared.
“I have had quite a few wildlife experiences,” said Roger with just a hint of litotes. “But Ruaha is the cheese.”