It was still very early in the morning as we made our way to a rendezvous with a few other vehicles from Kicheche Mara Camp. They had found the local lion pride breakfasting on a fresh zebra kill (taken down in the early hours). The two big pride males were roaring along with the lioness ‘killing team’ that had brought down the luckless zebra.
There wasn’t a great deal left on the bones, what with two pride males and the rest of the pride having had their fill. It was plainly obvious that the males were having seconds, with their massive stomachs already stretching to bursting point. The pride males and lionesses break out into roars. It’s not apparent why. Calling their pride? A warning to other prides or hyenas? All I know is that I could feel reverberating in my rib-cage.
In the distance, another lioness approached the scene. Following behind her, a pair of two-month old cubs were bouncing around and running about. Superb! The Landcruiser engines started-up and we all drove down to meet them and photograph their approach.
From a dawdle across the plain, their pace hastened as the tantalising smells of fresh meat were drifting downwind. The tell-tale crimson stains on the mother’s lips was a signal that they were in for a feast.
Soon, they were within a few metres of the kill site. The lioness’ body language changed in a heartbeat. Her hackles were raised and her teeth bared. Three juvenile lions had moved in to feed but she did not like this at all. She began growling and snarling at them, but they just looked up and carried on eating. Comprehending their mother’s body language, the young cubs sat down in the grass. The lioness moved in closer.
Across the carcass, just inches from each other, the mother and the juveniles snarled and growled even more aggressively. The younger lions grew nervous and began to back down, edging backwards and keeping their eyes on the ferocious looking lioness.
One young male turned his back to leave… then all hell broke loose. The lioness flew across the carcass, clawing and swiping at all three of them. They began sprinting away, but the lioness caught one in the shoulder with her claw and it span around.
With her other massive paw, she smashed it across the muzzle and it flipped over to release the claws now hooked in its skin. The youngster got to its feet and fled, chased now by the pride males whom seized on the opportunity to assert themselves in the melee. The lioness stood, riveted to the spot, shaking with fury.
Just seeing the pure unadulterated, unrestrained ferocity and wild nature rippling through these animals is enough to give you shivers. After the proverbial dust had settled, the young cubs trotted over to their mother for some affectionate play and a reassuring suckle.
What is so remarkable about lions is just how quickly they can throw the trigger… A tender mother one second and the next, a terrifying killing machine. Why the youngsters didn’t back down immediately is a mystery. For one of them in particular, it was a very painful lesson in why should always respect your elders!