Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Hunting with no moon

It's getting dark as the lioness begins to move, followed by her sister and a large male that has been with them for the past few days. The male is looking quite full, but the females seem hungry. Fortunately for them the moon has not yet risen, and the clouds are helping to blot out the stars which are slowly but surely appearing in the night sky. She knows it won't be too long before the moon shows itself. She has had years of practice, and has honed her art through countless successes and mistakes.

Slowly she heads off down the road, a light silhouette against the light coloured sandy road. To the eyes of the unpracticed humans watching her, she is virtually indistinguishable from the road, merely a faint movement as the dusk turns to dark.

The only sound that can be heard is that of the soft sand being delicately pressed in by her paws, and the occasional bird fluttering to it's roost. The lionesses fan out. In the still of the evening a herd of impala can be heard as they feed in a clearing. A soft snort here, or a rustle of leaves there as they break them off the lower branches of the bushes.

The male lion, known as Makhulu Mapogo hangs back. He is getting old, and has been part of enough hunts to know the successful ones are the ones led by lionesses. He will be happy to jump in once the moves are in motion, but until then he bides his time. Each lioness has taken a separate side of the small clearing, barely visible in the shades of grey. Each paw is placed purposefully and without hesitation on the ground to give away the least hint of their presence. They slink down low, moving from bush to bush, ears pricked to any sound. There is no line of sight between the two, instead they instinctively know where the other is, and when the trap must be sprung.

Almost as one they begin to run, one lioness herding the impala directly toward the other. The impala barely have a moment to realise the attack is imminent and begin to snort as they panic. Us humans can now hear them clearly, their hooves clashing against one another, their feet urgently hitting the earth, in a race for survival. The lionesses feet are pounding the earth, distinctly different from the impala hooves, the sheer bulk of their bodies moving at full force and shaking the earth.

The moon peeps out of the near darkness as a cloud moves aside. Too late for the herd, as a small, scared bleat sounds out. It is a frightened call, a contact call and it is quickly silenced, stifled by the lioness who has picked up this 8 month old lamb who was either too slow or too weak to escape.

We switch the spotlights on and begin to move. They had been kept off so as not to impact the hunt, and to allow us to appreciate the fear of the prey and to 'see' with our ears. The lioness has the impala by the neck and is running full tilt away from the male who is hot on her heals. He has every intention of taking this meal as his own. Both of their chests are bunched up and powerful, his mouth open in anticipation, hers locked onto the taste of blood. He bowls into her and grabs the feet of the impala, willing her to let go.

The lioness who started the chase comes through the bushes, and realises she has no chance of enjoying the spoils of war this night. The male is growling, attempting to assert his dominance, but the female has the taste of blood. All around the night is again still, apart from the fight building up before us.

We are privileged to watch as he begins to push against her, constantly growling, trying to force her off the kill. Each time the second lioness moves, he turns and snarls at her, pinning the impala with his powerful paws.

 For a good twenty minutes this continues, the growls growing more insistent as the two lions pull against each other.  

It seemed inevitable that the sheer bulk of the male would eventually win the prize.

 When he does, the female is left with only a bloody impala head hanging from her jaws. She carries off her prize, as does he, and they begin to feed. I sit in the car, hands shaking from the adrenalin. 

My heart is beating so loudly I am sure the lions can hear, and I want shake myself to check it is real. I'm not sad, per se, for the impala. I am more awed by the power of the lions, and the brutal beauty of what has happened right before our eyes. The lions growls have penetrated by heart, and I'm sure if I listen closely I can still hear them ringing in my ears. I don't want to forget this feeling ever, it is pure and simple life. Beautiful nature.


  1. Really cool post Lau! It must have been an epic experience to sit in the dark and listen to the chase and kill! Nice description of it too :) D

  2. I hope your Dad is reading these! It will make him truly understand and appreciate taking you on all these lovely holidays! Lucky talented young lady! Love it!