We heard the lions nearby last night, so this morning we set off looking for them.
I should mention something about the GPS plots I’m showing: these were done by Tony in the vehicle he was in. The four vehicles definitely vary where they’re going, though when something “good” happens, you’d see us overlap in plots. You can generally figure that out by density of pins in one area (lower right in the above plot is where the lion cub was [foreshadowing]).
Another thing you might notice in that plot is that it looks like there’s a road from our camp over to the right side (light gray line): so why didn’t we take that? Well, one of the vehicles tried. There’s impassible water—actually mud—at one point, so we keep having to take the long way around to get over to that right side.
Tracks were everywhere, including through camp, but no lions to be found. That’s a bit unusual, as with four vehicles taking different headings out of camp and surveying different territory, we usually can find animals known to be nearby very quickly. This morning, however, the lions are somehow eluding us.
Except for one.
As we made our way out to a pan to see what was coming to water, right in the middle of nowhere we found a lone lion cub. This cub was young enough that the mother surely would have tucked it away at the den and expected it to stay there, but this one was just old enough that he was ambling out in the open and an easy prey to any number of predators. This is the way young lions get killed, actually: they’re alone while mom and dad are off hunting and protecting the territory, and something like a pack of wild dogs or of hyena come across it and take it down.
Walking out in the open just makes that an even more likely outcome.
Curiously, this cub was about midway between where we saw two female lions yesterday, and where we heard them last night. I suspect the story was that the place we saw them yesterday was the den (or very near it), and the elder lions wandered off in the evening to go hunt in the territory near our camp. At some point the cub decided that mom had “gone thataway”, decided to try to follow, didn’t find her, and decided to trek back to the den.
But he didn’t make it that far. The heat of the day was coming on, and so shortly after we found him, he found a small area of shade next to a termite mound (see below) and eventually settled in for a nap. Again, not good behavior being out in the open like that.
There’s only so many pictures you can take of a sleeping lion cub, so we quickly degraded into taking pictures of huge group of nearby bee-eaters, all feeding on insects. The bee-eaters were following some predictable patterns, so everyone was soon trying to get their bee-eater shots. Here’s what they look like when not in motion:
Upon tiring of that, off we went to finish our drive to the pan. That was rewarded with a plethora of animals: impala, crocodile, zebra, elephant, monkeys, pelicans, storks, and probably a dozen or so other species I wasn’t keeping track of. The nice thing about having a target rich environment like this at tea time is that we can set up tripods and have plenty of subjects where we can discuss autofocus and custom settings and camera whatnot. I’m not going to try to recreate that here, as it was a lengthy discussion, but perhaps I’ll try to come up with some summary of it later in the blog.
When we finally broke from the pan, Stanley decided he wanted to do a cross country look for the lions. We still had an idea about where they might be, but they were in a roadless area that has any number of hazards. Ironically, we did find them, but by taking a very long, circuitous route through some of the remotest bits of the delta. Problem is, once we found them, we couldn’t describe to the other vehicles where they were, because we didn’t know where we were. So after a bit of shooting, we left the lions to try to find a route back to someplace known, so that we could then lead the other vehicles out.
But no sooner did we get back to known territory that the vehicle that wanted to follow us out found a honey badger digging under a log. “Honey badger don’t care."
By the time we got back to the lions, they were down for the day and sleeping, so back to camp for lunch. Wait, what’s that on that termite mound as we approach camp? Why that would be a python. Okay, now we had a new toy to play with. A few shots and it was down the hole in the mound, so we headed to lunch. But the next vehicle behind us saw a bigger python at the same mound, so we turned around and headed back when we heard about the “six meter python.”
Unfortunately, the second python was probably only four to five meters long—much longer than the one we had seen before, though. What impressed me more than the length was the girth. This was one fat python. It glistened, so it probably had been in the water not far behind the mound.
Time for lunch. Phew!
After lunch we drove around for a long time with only minor success. Just before sunset and returning to camp we found two lions. Only these lions were…wait for it…mating. I’m going to keep this Safe For Work today, but I’ll warn you that tomorrow’s blog may be NSFW for some of you.
As often is the case out here in the wild, there’s some story we’re not fully privy to. The male in the mating pair seemed awful young to be mating with the fully mature female. Nevertheless, that’s what was happening here. Then we noticed a third lion, a large, beautiful fully adult male (see above). Wait, why isn’t he chasing the younger male off and doing the dirty work?
Stanley’s theory was that we must have come near the end of estrous and the older male had had his fill and wandered off, leaving the female “available.” But still, that seems very un-alpha male-like to me. I’d be chasing…
We waited for a chase right up until darkness, but the big boy just sat there a hundred yards away and watched. Strange.
Meanwhile, Anthony caught this image of my vehicle at the mating lions. Four different strategies for shooting in one vehicle ;~).
Shooting down low like I am has its benefits (see eye level shot Anthony took, above) and drawbacks (look at how tall the grass is: it gets in the way if you’re not careful in positioning. Fortunately, these lions have picked an area that’s clear of grass to do their mating.