Hiding out in Hwange

by Adam Garden

We had just pulled over to sign out of The Hide’s conservancy, when our stopped engine allowed us a chance to hear the sounds of the bush.  We had spent our short drive from the camp identifying some of the 400 species of birds that called Hwange home. In our silence, the often heard “work har-der” call of the Cape turtle dove was ever present but interrupted by a far-off series of low-pitched grumbles.  Very tongue-in-cheek, I asked my extremely patient and competent guide what I had already asked a dozen times that afternoon “Now what bird was that Nkosi?”. This was no bird he had ever heard, but definitely worth taking a look at, I was told assuredly. My game drive into the public area of Hwange National Park had therefore lasted all of the 60 seconds it took for the exquisitely well-maintained 4WD Land Cruiser to complete its’ standard 5-point turnaround.  As we took the road back, about 200m from where I’d be resting my head that night, we heard the grunts again; this time far closer and more recognisable as three separate roars.  As we rounded some trees, we found our noisy culprits – a young male lion exchanging greetings with a pair of lionesses on a large open clearing.  It was nearing 5pm which put the sun still relatively high in the sky, and the roars curiously out of place for such a time. It had seemed that this young lion had stumbled across the two ladies and interrupted their quality afternoon naptime.  The young male had stopped 20 metres short of the lionesses that were resting under the shade of an acacia; he sat bathed in sunlight, square in middle of the clearing, probably a result of the females conversing earlier that they could see him just fine from there. The two lionesses continued their afternoon siesta, casually eyeing their male counterpart and completely apathetic towards our vehicle that had slowly made its way toward their resting place. 

  “The lion does not concern itself with the opinion of the sheep” as the saying went, and I had never felt more sheepish at the sight of these grand majestic creatures.  The young male lion was an intruder, Nkosi told me as we sat and watched in the last of the afternoon sun. Nkosi was expecting another when he heard the calls; an older, stronger and much more dominant male that had been seen around these parts of Hwange. The lion we were seeing however was less than 4 years old, still relatively young, his mane was only just starting to come through.  Regardless, the King of the Jungle was away and the young prince had obviously come to try and make an impression on the two females. All three of them started to pant, their heat-shedding breathing almost shook the very air around me. As the African sun raged on throughout the late afternoon, the heat had started to get to the young male, he decided to lay his head down, naturally averting his gaze from the inert females. Without any audible word or warning, the older lioness quietly sprung to her feet and started to stalk over to the unaware lion’s left flank.  A few moments later, the second lioness joined her and approached his right.  It took a few moments before the resting lion brought himself back to alertness.  It was almost too late, the females were now both behind and ahead of him; “clever girls”, I thought to myself. His retaliatory roar was much more like a whimper as they descended upon him.  A couple of swipes were exchanged with their powerful front legs; a test to see what the young male would do.  All he could do was bare his teeth and submissively lie back down in a threatened position. The young male had failed to assert himself and the two ladies were hardly impressed. They turned their back on him and wandered over to what they thought was much more interesting; a sniff of a three-week-old elephant carcass – better luck next time young man.

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