Text and photographs: Greg Baldwin
We drove out of camp at the crack of dawn with the hopes of seeing a sun rise through the already gloomy sky. My idea was to stop at Maxim’s lookout and hopefully brighten the mood with a strong cup of coffee. On route to our stop I glanced across the Sand River to the Ngoboswan donga where a buffalo had been killed by the two Eyrefield lionesses two days prior.
While I was expecting to see the two lionesses lying next to the carcass, I wasn’t surprised to see a male lion next to the carcass, probably having chased the lionesses off. I assumed it was one of the Matshipiri males who had awoken from his slumber at West street to come and help himself to a fifth buffalo in a week! This thought quickly left me when I saw how blonde his mane looked in the early morning light. Grabbing my binoculars I was stunned to be met by another four male lions fighting over the buffalo carcass… It was the Gowrie males!
We had a split second debate as to whether we were going to stop for coffee first but the growling from across the river destroyed such thoughts. It was an awesome sight, all five males fighting over the remains of the buffalo cow. I could not help but think of how much this reminded me of watching the Manyalethi males when they used to grace our property…
However something had the lion’s attention and between feeding bouts they would look across the river westwards. The way they kept staring intently across the river made me think that they were going to confront whatever it was that had their attention. Strangely the opposite happened and one of the lions started jogging away eastwards softly contact calling the other four to join him.
They were acting as if they were nervous, but what could five male lions be nervous about! Then we could hear it, lions roaring from our west. It was far away but it clearly had the Gowrie males unsettled. We could easily hear that the roaring was getting closer and it was slowly becoming too much for the five young males. One by one they slowly left their prized buffalo and started jogging North East looking nervously over their shoulders. They started roaring, as a taunt but it never reached the usual full crescendo male lions are capable of, it was a defeated roar.
We followed them as they moved very quickly away from the buffalo. They were going back to their ‘familiar’ territory in the North. While moving through the thick vegetation we noticed vultures perched in tree, ominous indicators of death. We were too far from the buffalo so started looking for the reason of their presence. Movement ahead of us caught our eyes. It was a waterbuck, lying twitching on the floor, still alive; snake bite, disease or age seemed to be the cause of its certain end.
Unbelievably three of the lions walked right past it, probably too concerned about the lions calling behind them. Fortunately for the fourth lion he caught sight of the dying waterbuck, and made a beeline straight towards his early Christmas present. He stalked his unmoving quarry just in case his eyes were deceiving him and grabbed it by the throat for good measure. He looked up to see if the others had witnessed his amazing kill. One or two of the other lions retuned to join him before the roars behind them reminded them it was better to keep moving northwards. While he engorged himself on the waterbuck the other four continued on only to stop a few hundred meters away, softly grunting to get their brother to come and join them.
Over the radio source of the roars these five had been running from was finally revealed, it was none other than the two Clarendon males! They had come all the way from our western boundary and reached the area of buffalo carcass with astonishing speed, obviously ready to take on these younger intruders.
In between all of this excitement a leopard appeared at the buffalo carcass. It was the Treehouse male leopard. Typical of these opportunistic cats, he must have been watching the lions all along. He had a quick snack on the buffalo carcass before high tailing it at the sight of the Clarendon males approaching.
The Clarendon males arrived at the buffalo and after a bit of scent marking decided that a meal was more important than following the foreign visitors, and maybe less of a risk. They ate the little remained and then left back westwards just as quickly as they had arrived. They did however make sure their departure was known with a final roaring bout.
The Gowrie males eventually lay down just south of Campbell koppies where they regrouped; it was a bit too much excitement in the life of a lion and they spent the rest of the day sleeping! We decided it was finally time to have our missed tea and coffee break.
The Gowrie males eventually moved north off of the property later in the evening, rather quietly I might add. The whole encounter was rather surprising; I hadn’t expected the five Gowrie males to be so unnerved by the roars of the Clarendon males. It may have been them being so far into unknown territory that led to their lack of confidence. I guess the question on all of our minds is will they run away from the roars next time?