One thing I love about being an African Safari ranger is that you never know what kind of Big Five sighting you might come across while on a Kapama game drive in South Africa.
My guests and I began our morning safari with a sense of excitement and intrigue as we made our way out of Buffalo Camp. I heard from colleagues a pair of male Lions had been spotted earlier that morning not too far away from us. As Lions, especially male Lions, are always high up on our guests’ wish list, we decided to head in their direction. With good tracking from my assistant guide, Ishmael, we hoped to come across a good sighting.
The tracks we followed to one area showed the Lions had moved off. Determined to find them we tried to pick up on their movements. In the distance, we could see several vultures in the air. Slowly one by one they moved down to the ground which is a really good indicator that something was dead. It seemed it was not just us who had noticed the vultures, as Ishmael pointed out the Lion tracks were heading straight towards the birds of prey.
Lions use vultures to find food. They know vultures will only flock in numbers and go to the ground if there is something dead which the Lions use this to their advantage. We looped around straight to the circling vultures hoping we would see some sign of the male Lions. When we got to the location we went to investigate what was causing the flock of vultures to congregate. But we could not see or pinpoint anything as there were so many vultures. Suddenly out of the bushes, the two male Lions we were hunting emerged into view and started to sniff around.
This was a perfect opportunity for us to take some time and enjoy their behavior and interaction with each other and the vultures. Suddenly one of the male Lions started to move quickly past our vehicle. We all turned around to see what caused this sudden reaction. With awe, we watched as the male Lion picked up speed, sprinted then jumped on the trunk of a tree and began to climb. Following his movements I noticed a dead impala hanging quite high up in the tree. It was a kill from a leopard who had chosen this particular tree as its hiding spot for its meal. Unlucky for the leopard, the male Lion had found its prize. The male Lion got higher up in the tree and started to pull on the impala body trying to loosen it from its hiding spot. The more he pulled the more the horn of the impala caught on the branch.
The male Lion took a breather and I could see that he was a bit nervous to be so high up. The fear in his eyes was evident. Normally Lions don’t climb trees as they are too heavy and very uncomfortable to be high up in a tree trying to keep their balance as not to fall.
But this male Lion seemed to put his fears aside and continued to concentrate on getting the impala kill loose. He seemed determined to do anything to get it. With a second attempt, he gripped tighter, and with one more mighty pull managed to dislodge the impala. That was only one part of his mission.
Now he had to still get down. Step by step he tried to move slowly down the tree, then suddenly he slipped and fell straight down. As he hit the ground the other male Lion charged in and grabbed the impala, attempting to steal it. As quickly as he fell he swung around and gripped his prize trying hard not to give it up. A classic tug of war commenced between these two great beasts, each one pulling as hard as possible trying to take the meal for themselves. With this incredible force, the impala split in half and both Lions ran to separate corners, pleased with their winnings.
What an experience this was, not only for my guests but for myself and Ishamel as well. From the tracking of the two Lions to the vultures. From witnessing a Lion climbing a tree to the stealing of the carcass and finally the ultimate tug of war. Such an unexpected and unforgettable sighting of a Big Five. Another terrific ending to our guests’ safari stays at Kapama.
Story and photos by Buffalo Camp Ranger Ben Scheepers