Posted by & filed under Safari Stories.

April was an eventful month at Kanana! The appearance of three lionesses accompanied by nine cubs of roughly eight months old caused much excitement for everyone! The following update and stunning photos by Aubrey Malekane, one of Kanana's experienced guides, describe the drama that unfolded in the weeks following their first appearance.

It was in mid-April that I was working in the Kanana concession with one of my fellow guides, not on a game drive, but to clear game drive tracks that had become very overgrown following the excellent rains we received this season. It was then that we saw them for the first time! The lions and the young cubs were amazing to watch, full of life and we spent some time observing them play. Of course, not expecting to be looking at animals I had no camera! That night they moved deep into the concession and spent the night on the edge of the camp itself. For the next few days they remained in close proximity to the camp and we were lucky to be able to spend time with them every day.

Several day later, in the early hours of the morning (when guests are sleeping and guides listen for that telltale roar in the darkness which will lead them to a perfect lion sighting with their guests!) that I heard the lions roaring and mentally planned the morning game drive. Immediately after breakfast we headed out of camp to find the lions. We stopped shortly after leaving camp to observe an elephant feeding quietly and as we sat there the peace was suddenly broken by a nearby lion roar.

A brief search in the general direction of the roars brought us upon one of the cubs crossing the track and disappearing quickly into the grass. At first I thought the pride may be hunting, but the cub's behavior made me suspect all was not well. Communicating my concerns to the guests, we moved in the direction from where the cub had come to investigate further. It was then that I saw a male lion moving through the grass and sniffing around. Clearly he was searching for the cub we had just seen and this did not bode well for the females or the cubs. What had happened to the other youngsters? Where were the adult females? Where were the fathers of the cubs? While I considered these thoughts an adult female appeared briefly in front of us before moving away into the undergrowth.

Naturally everyone on the vehicle was quite anxious for the wellbeing of the lions, and I decided to head towards the location that the initial roars had come from that morning. At the concession boundary, we met with guides from the neighboring concession area. They had seen three of the cubs on their own that morning, and informed us that two male lions were attempting to take over the pridal area and had already driven off the resident pride males. Following the successful ousting of the resident males, they were now attempting to track down and kill the cubs. Lions carry out infanticide, it is believed, in order to allow them to immediately breed with the pride's females, thus ensuring that their own genes survive and not those of their competitors. Continuing our game drive, we were fortunate enough to come across three of the cubs hiding under a bush, and a while later one of the adult females. The pride had clearly been scattered by the two invading males and the cubs' survival hung in the balance.

Later that afternoon I decided to go back and check on the three cubs. They were still alone hiding under the bush, but unfortunately no females were to be seen. The good news at least, was that the two male lions appeared to have left the immediate area. Another guide later reported that he had found another cub, which they followed and which eventually managed to join up with the other three. Young lions, without the protection of adults are threatened by almost all predators, especially jackals and hyena, as well as dehydration and starvation. If they were not reunited with the females soon, they would not last long alone.

Over the next few days, the three lionesses were spotted hunting with five of the cubs in tow. All appeared in good health, though of course we were all wondered about the fate of the remaining four cubs.

A week after the initial devastating appearance of the two males, a morning game drive found the pride feeding on a warthog but one of the lionesses was missing. Some tracking led us to find her wandering alone, in the vicinity of the area in which the four cubs were last seen. Could it be that she was searching for the cubs? Later that afternoon when I returned, the female had returned to the pride with a single cub. Three remain missing however, and is likely that they have not survived. Young lions have a surprisingly low survival rate so the survival of as many as six of the cubs is very positive. Perhaps we shall be surprised though and the remaining cubs will appear in the next few weeks.


Posted by & filed under Safari Stories.

Shinde Pride's Coalition

In early 2013, the Shinde concession lion population was thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a coalition of four male lions. The following months has seen some incredible and often traumatic events for the lions and people alike, and provided a fascinating insight into the dynamics of lion social organisation and breeding behavior.
Prior to the coalition's initial appearance last year, the Shinde pride consisted of only three mature females overseen by two mature male lions. The pride has seen a great deal of upheaval over the last few years, with males constantly coming and going. The result of this constant change of leadership was that the cubs never survived and the pride's population fluctuated as the dominant males came and went. The most important function of the male lion is to provide stability to the pride females and young. By protecting the pride's territorial boundaries and evicting any trespassers they provide a stable environment in which cubs may be born and raised in relative safety. This had been lacking in the Shinde concession for several years and the result was a small and insecure lion pride.

In the event that a pride is taken over by new males, it is common for all young cubs to be killed, probably because this results in the females immediately becoming fertile thus allowing the new males to breed and ultimately pass on their own genes. A pride in which the males are regularly changing will not allow for the successful rearing of young and therefore lead to a declining population. The presence of a strong coalition far more beneficial to the pride than a single male.

The arrival of the coalition of four initially led to isolated clashes between the new arrivals and the incumbent males. However during this period one or more of the coalition males began to mate with the pride females resulting in the birth of a litter of five cubs. This was followed shortly after by further litter of four cubs. The survival of these cubs was by no means guaranteed due to the ongoing presence of the original pride males.

However at the end of 2013, this period of instability came to a dramatic head when the coalition brutally attacked the two pride males, leading to the death of a lioness (see blog from October ) and  vanquishing of the two males which have not been seen again. The pride has since returned to a more peaceful and secure existence, and the cubs have so far all survived. While concession is dominated by such a strong coalition, the future appears bright for the present and future generations of the Shinde pride.

Posted by & filed under Omphile Kaluluka (Specialist Guide), Safari Stories.

Early one morning as the camp's guests and guides were settling down for breakfast, a herd of clearly distressed impala came charging through the dining area. As the guides looked in the direction from which the herd had come, three wild dog were spotted pulling an impala to the ground.

With breakfast instantly forgotten, all the guests left the table and dashed outside to watch this incredible event. Undoubtably a couple of spectators were off their breakfast, but it was fascinating to see the kill and then observe one of the dogs trot away and return with seven pups to share the feast. As well as being extremely efficient hunters, wild dog are equally proficient at eating! Within several minutes there was nothing left but skin and bones, and while the satisfied dogs walked away to rest, a pair of jackals enjoyed their own surprise breakfast.

Posted by & filed under Safari Stories.

A recent leopard sighting at Shinde caught everyones attention! Leopard are, while seen relatively often in the Shinde concession, remain an unusual sighting. This sighting of a previously unknown young male, reminds us of the delicate positions even the top predators hold in the ever changing wildlife hierarchy.

Circling yellow billed kites initially aroused the interest of the ever alert guide and closer inspection of the area found a young male leopard looking anxious and peering toward an adjacent copse of bushes. On circling the island of bushes, a recently killed male reedbuck was spotted lying in the grass, and who else was lying alongside, but the ever present villain of the African bush, the spotted hyena! The hyena was fast asleep and had clearly gorged himself on the reedbuck. Several minutes later a second hyena appeared through the undergrowth and proceeded to drag the reedbuck deeper into the tall grass. Several hours later there would be no trace of the reedbuck.

 Sometime later the leopard approached the spot where the reedbuck had been lying and began to lick the blood off the ground.  The young male had undoubtably made the kill in the first place, and was clearly still very hungry. However in this instance, the brute strength of a pair of fully grown and very opportunistic hyena, was to take precedence. The young leopard would at least, learn an important lesson and still live to hunt another day.

Posted by & filed under Safari Stories.

Walking in the Okavango, Botswana is full of surprises

Guests were enjoying a morning walking Okavango safari at  Footsteps Across the Delta in the northern Okavango Delta, the rising summer temperatures dictating an early start. The guides noted lions roaring in the mid morning, several kilometres away. The lateness of their activity led the guides to suspect that the males were challenging other lions which may have ventured into their territory, and so a vehicle was then requested from base camp to collect the walking party and allow further investgation.

Within minutes of beginning the search of the area in which the sounds were thought to originate, a big male lion was spotted. The lion was moving at a fast walk, flashing glances in all directions. The lion was clearly extremely agitated and was followed at distance for about twenty minutes. During this time, other lions were still heard calling nearby, along with the sound of splashing water. The presently unseen lions were clearly nearby and crossing water in a hurry. It appeared that these animals were tracking the lone male that was so obviously distressed. The single male eventually walked alongside the stationary vehicle and paused, still looking furtively into the surrounding bush. Suddenly, two other males were spotted moving toward the single male, using the low scrub and grass as cover. Clearly something dramatic was about to unfold around the vehicle and its passengers.

The single male was still relatively calm, as he was clearly unaware of the approaching lions, which were now using the vehicle as cover and rapidly closing the distance between them and their quarry. Fortunately for the single male, a nearby troop of baboons were also observing the events unfolding and while their vocal announcement of potential danger would usually be a problem for a hunting lion, in this case they no doubt saved the life of this lone male. The approaching pair were spotted before they could get in position for the final sprint and the three lions crashed away through the vegetation, the lone male running for his life tailed closely by his aggressors.

No time to draw breath..

As the lions crashed away into the undergrowth, everyone tried to digest the dramatic events which had just unfolded around them. Huge male lions are rarely seen in action and are a mighty and overwhelmingly powerful animal, who's speed and sheer power is often underestimated. The guides and guests then noticed a large cloud of dust was noticed several hundred metres away and so the party moved off to investigate.

The vehicle arrived to find that the dust was created by two other large male lions, pounding a single lioness mercilessly despite her best attempts to defend herself. As the vehicle approached, the larger of the two males pinned the lioness down using only his body weight and the lioness was utterly beaten and submissive. Further investigation of the other location of the other male lions found no trace and the guides suspected that the single male may have been luckier than his female companion, and escaped the attentions of his pursuers.

Several hours after leaving camp for a  leisurely morning walk the party returned. However, after lunch as the guests wandered towards their tents, a single female lion was spotted resting at the rear of camp. It appeared that the injured lioness had managed to escape attentions of the two male lions and had found her way into camp.

The late afternoon saw guides and guests set out in the vehicle to further investigate the fate of the single male and the present location of the four pride males. No sign of the four lions or the single male were apparent and a relatively subdued drive was enjoyed by all, culminating in the traditional sundowners and a sunset as can only be made in Africa.  As the last light of day dwindled away, lions were heard calling close by. After a brief search along the hippo paths and game trails, two of the lions were found walking and calling. Close by the other pair were heard responding and both pairs appeared to be moving together.

After several minutes the two pairs met and began greeting each other, reaffirming the bonds which unite them and which ensure that they are able to dominate their pridal territory.

Amazingly, the day's events were still not yet complete. On retiring after dinner, the guide then found the lioness lying under the front eave of his tent. Some coaxing with the spotlight allowed the guide to enter his tent as the lioness moved slowly away. Shortly after getting into bed, some rustling in the leaves caused the guide to turn his torch back on and he found the lioness had returned to lie immediately in front of the tent. The four males were not far away and the lioness clearly was still very nervous. Both guide and lioness went to sleep with the sounds of the distant roaring of the pride males in their ears.

Dawn found the lioness still resting, now at the rear of the tent. Observations of her injuries and the almost total response to humans around her, suggested her injuries were extremely serious. The lioness remained in the vicinity of the camp for the rest of the day and finally a government wildlife vet was requested to fly in and assess the lioness' injuries. Sadly before the wildlife vet could reach the animal she died, which considering the severity of her injuries was unsurprising but undoubtably saved her a great deal of suffering.



Posted by & filed under Our People.

Having been with Ker & Downey Botswana for several years Relax (Mothusiemang Relemogeng) now joins Omphile Kaluluka as the third member of the specialist guiding team at Footsteps Across the Delta.