Lions by the dozen? Now that’s not your every day sighting!
Being in Kasane, northern Botswana in early July this year, with no specific commitments for the afternoon and with Chobe Game Reserve a stone’s throw away, it seemed like a good idea, to say the least, when my colleague Stuart suggested an afternoon game drive along the Riverfront section of Chobe.
Later in the day it’s preferable to first head west along the tar road towards Ngoma gate and then make your way back from there, which puts the setting sun behind you and makes it a lot easier for spotting, which we duly did.
By about 3 pm we were in Chobe, travelling along the river road in an easterly direction back towards Sedudu gate, the sun comfortably behind us and happy about the prospect of a couple of hours of prime game viewing ahead.
We were immediately rewarded with a group of elephants drinking in the river shallows, then making their way up the bank towards the bush.
Travelling along the sandy track, we encountered constant bird life in numbers that I cannot recall having seen before – the bumpy track was abuzz with Doves, Spurfowl, Guineafowl and others, to the point of almost running over them, while the pools formed by the receding river were crowded with waterfowl. But this drive was not about birding, for a change, so I had to suppress my desire to shout “STOP!” each time I spotted an interesting bird, hoping that my restraint would be rewarded with exciting game sightings.
The “usual suspects” were all present – Kudu, Giraffe, Zebra, Impala, some groups of Banded Mongoose, plenty of Elephants and around 400-500 Cape Buffalo on the opposite side of the river, where they know they are safe from marauding lions.
But the sighting of the day, or even the year, belonged to a pride of Lions that we first saw in the distance, almost a kilometre away, when we stopped to check why a lone vehicle was stationery and what those beige blobs nearby may be.
Binoculars were raised to eyes in a flash and high fives ensued when we saw that they were indeed lions, prompting us to make our way along the riverside track with subdued haste, excitement building all the while.
We approached carefully so as not to disturb the scene and for the next 20 minutes enjoyed the sight of 4 adult lions and 8 juveniles interacting.
The adults were quite relaxed and lying around while the juveniles walked about trying their best to look like fierce lions but only succeeding in drawing a few ‘aaahs’ from us.
Lion cubs have white spots on the lower parts, while their initial greyish woolly coat changes to the adult tawny colour at about three months and the white spots gradually fade as the youngster ages. My guess is these cubs were between 6 and 12 months old.
A Giraffe poking his long neck above nearby bush added a frisson of tension to the scene and moments later the lions sensed its presence as first one adult female then the others moved in its direction.
When the young male stood up as well, we noticed it had a pronounced limp from some previous injury to its leg – he gave a low growl and immediately the youngsters, eager to follow the adults, were “called back” and stayed near the limping male, who seemed to have been left in charge while the other adults went to suss out the chances of a giraffe dinner.
After a while, the adults returned, possibly having assessed the opportunity and decided against pursuing it further. By this time the day was starting to run out as the sun headed towards the horizon and we moved away to leave the scene to the several safari vehicles that were approaching, sated with one of the best lion sightings we have ever had.