Sunday the 18th of September
Heavy grey clouds had begun to crowd the white hot skies of the Sabi Sands. Cold winds blew in vicious gusts as the heavens opened and the first rains of the season landed on the parched cracked earth. The safariLIVE crew and animals alike could hardly believe that some rainy relief had finally arrived! The night was loud as cracks of thunder drowned the roars of lions and flashes of lightning tore apart the darkness. Once the morning dawned the rain had relented to a light and persistent drizzle. The lions had an absolutely astounding night of success, two kills split between a total of 15 lions! Of course the Nkuhuma pride had been responsible for most of the slaughter as their hunting prowess only seem to increase with intensity. Tayla discovered the first kill just across our southern boundary. Muddy little cubs clambered over the adult buffalo cow and feasted under the new dazzling sensation of rain, an environmental element that was previously unfamiliar to them. Only four of the Nkuhuma pride were present along with two of the Birmingham males. The lionesses were getting some much needed and well deserved rest under a clump of damp and dripping bushes while one of the males fed, keeping a wary eye on the muddy little monsters. The second male was lying a short distance away and looking rather sorry for himself. He had a large bite wound on his face that had swollen excessively over night. His features were distorted and his lip twitched with each pulse of pain that accompanied every inhalation and exhalation of breath. Tayla eventually made her way out of the sighting as various other safari goers clammed for their chance to see the incredible predators.
(Grubby Nkuhuma cub feeding on buffalo, Screenshot Credit: Kaarina Pietiäinen, safariLIVE Djuma)
A short distance away Jamie was making her way around the reserve with the goal of visiting all the various dams on Djuma to see how much they had been able to fill overnight. When all of a sudden the fifth Nkuhuma lioness popped up out of nowhere. Her belly swung from side to side and she waddled slowly back towards her pride contact calling softly. The second kill was nearby as evidenced by the fresh crimson blood dripping off her once white and fluffy chin. Yet no one had been able to locate. This all changed on the sunset safari, reports flooded in confirming that the swollen-faced Birmingham male had been found on a fresh buffalo calf carcass not far from where the Nkuhuma pride had been on the adult buffalo kill. The male lion was looking more forlorn than ever, his puffy snout had quite literally taken on a life of it’s own. Upon closer inspection, it became apparent that a fly of some description had laid eggs in the gaping wound and maggots could be seen squirming in the depths of the wound. This was definitely not a scene for sensitive viewer, yet cases of this type of infestation parasitic infestation have never been recorded in the wild. He was soon joined by another one of his coalition mates as well as the youngest of the Nkuhuma lionesses. Eventually it was time to leave as the darkness turned dim overcast light into an inky twilight gloom.
(Puffy faced Birmingham male lion, Screenshot Credit: Marieke van Nistelrooij, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Monday the 19th of September
Light drizzle was still coating the northern Sabi Sand in fresh gleaming droplets as the safariLIVE crew set out in soft grey morning light. Leopard and lion alike, were belting out their booming rasps and roars! Tayla made her way onto Quarantine clearings and quickly caught up with one of the Birmingham males. This individual had not been seen on either carcass from the day before. He walked determinedly towards the site of the buffalo calf kill roaring and contact calling as he did so. Eventually the big male went flat, staring in the direction his coalition mates. Tayla decided to leave the big male and make her way back to the buffalo calf carcass.
(Birmingham male lion, Screenshot Credit: Claire Armendinger, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Not far Jamie was hot on the tail of Tingana who was equally as vocal. Eventually Jamie managed to catch up with him as he began to stalk a nearby herd of impala. He melted into the undergrowth, his spotted pelage camouflaging him perfectly in the dull morning light. He was within meters of the antelope before loud snorts of alarm gave him up, frustrated he stood and continued on his way. Suddenly a burst of lean tawny muscle exploded out of nowhere, Tingana barely had time to react as the young Nkuhuma lioness bounded towards him. A brief yet nail-biting chase ensued, Tingana barely made it up the slender trunk of an extremely conveniently place Marula tree, the lioness had missed the leopard by a tail hair! She waited at the base of the Marula as Tingana peered at her indignantly from the highest boughs of the tree. She soon became bored however, and slowly moved off towards the buffalo calf kill.
(Tingana keeping a lookout after being chased up a tree by a lioness, Screenshot Credit: Claire Armendinger, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Tingana, thoroughly shaken from his already eventful morning huddled in the tree top looking rather sorry for himself. Eventually he made a clumsy descent, only to be surprised by Shadow who bolted into the sighting out of nowhere! She bounded in playfully rolling in piles of damp leaves. Tingana by this stage seemed rather fed up with the intensity of his morning so far and quietly tried to slink away, but not much escapes the attention of Shadow, especially not Tingana. She followed him closely while constantly trying to seduce him. Tingana did his best to ignore her advances, yet a leopardess in oestrous is both persistent and persuasive. The pair crossed west into Arathusa, Tingana eventually gave into to Shadow and the pair mated before eventually crossing north into Simbambili.
(Shadow waiting for Tingana, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Tayla had now made it to the lions, the puffy maggot-infested Birmingham was lying some distance away from the kill while his Birmingham coalition mate and the young Nkuhuma lioness lay nearby the kill. It must’ve been by some magic that this lioness had managed to get back to the two male and the carcass so quickly after the thrilling leopard chase! She was clearly tired and hungered by her morning burst of energy and every so often would attempt to take a morsel of meat. But the Large and somewhat selfish Birmingham male growled fiercely each time she tried. Eventually she was able to position herself on the opposite side of the kill and he finally gave in and allowed her to feed while he lay dozing, his rotund belly rising and falling in time with his deep breaths.
(Nkuhuma lioness waiting for a chance to feed after chasing Tingana, Screenshot Credit: Kaarina Pietiäinen, safariLIVE Djuma)
Later that afternoon Jamie returned to the kill site to find very little meat left on the carcass and hungry winged scavengers lining the leafless tree tops waiting patiently for their chance to clean up the scraps. The young Nkuhuma lioness and her overly possessive male counterpart were lying a short distance away while the puffy-faced Birmingham continued to sleep off his infection. As with sightings WE have had before with this particular male, every time the lioness even looked like she may move he was up and at her side, shepherding her movement. Eventually she would give up on her ambitions to relocate her pride and simply lay down shortly followed by the heavy flop of the over eager male. The cats remained in this comatose state for most of the afternoon and early evening hours.
Tuesday the 20th of September
The Nkuhuma pride have been on a roll of late, another kill was made in the darkest hours of the night. Whatever it was however was small as most of it had been consumed by the time Jamie caught up with them on the seven hour special sunset safari. The lions were all flat and full, contented stomachs protruded onto the still damp ground as the lions panted away the afternoon heat. Three of the Birmingham males were now present with the lionesses. The male with the maggot infection in his nose was doing much better, the swelling has gone down completely, it appears there is no longer and infection there and there was no sign of the writhing white worms creating the extreme inflammation. Although the wound did seem to be creating a small amount of discomfort, he flicked his tail constantly and nagged at the wound with his paw. Although, aside from this and the now gaping pink hole in his snout, he appears to be doing just fine.
(Nkuhuma cub peering over mom, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
The possessive Birmingham, affectionately known as “Mo,” however was still up to his old tricks. One of the lionesses had made the decision to move from one sleeping spot to another, he incorrectly interpreted this as a romantic invitation. His advance was met with indignant snarl and swat, all hell then broke loose! Mo had clearly had enough of his over enthusiastic advances constantly being declined, he growled back and rushed forward only to be stopped by five bared sets of Nkuhuma lioness teeth, just waiting to sink themselves into some Birmingham flesh. Frustrated, Mo turned on his brother who had simply been minding his own business, worrying at his injured muzzle. The antagonised Mo rushed the recovering lion for no apparent reason, his brother simply rolled over submissively, clearly not wanting to do any further damage to his already mangled nose. Mo then strutted his way back to the pride, feeling better after asserting his dominance. The lionesses however greeted him less than enthusiastically by ignoring him, one brave cub even curled his upper lip while a braver one still, pounced on the male aggressively and bit out chunks of his mane. One lioness then approached him sternly, raised her paw and gave him a smart slap on the nose before turning on her heel and stalking off. This however, is of no concern to a fully grown male lion however and he simply shrugged them off and flopped in a great tawny heap under the nearest guarri bush.
(Unpopular “Mo” nurses his ego as Nkuhuma cubs play, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Jamie then left the sighting to investigate the thrid Birmingham male lying a short distance away. He lay in glorious splendor, spread eagle on his back, eyes closed tight with content and paws dangling lazily in mid air. It very quickly became clear her was not about to go anywhere or do anything, at least not while the sun was still up.
(Birmingham male lion, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
That all changed when the sun set over the western horizon. Armed with infrared lights and camera equipment the safariLIVE crew embarked on their first true night drive. Jamie returned to the Nkuhuma pride and sat in sheer amazement as the night came alive with the sound of booming roars. Jamie was unable to see the lions with her naked eye but the physical sensation of a lion’s roar only a few meters from the vehicle is definitely something that needs to be felt and heard, not seen. The Nkuhuma pride called long and load into the night, the cubs even got in on the action and mimicked the adults despite still sounding like strangled house cats. The pride then moved off into thick bush. Jamie made the decision to let walking lions walk, and promptly headed out in search of other fascinating nocturnal animals. The lions however had other ideas and soon Jamie found herself with the pride again, this time they had gone flat on a termite mound some distance away from where they were originally found. The cubs and lionesses slept soundly and deeply, Jamie soon moved on this time hoping to leave the lions for good. But no, the third Birmingham male was now up and popped out on the road ahead approximately 30 seconds after Jamie had left the Nkuhuma pride. The large and impressive male walked southwards scent marking as he went. Eventually he crossed out of Djuma and Jamie was finally free to explore the night!
(The Nkuhuma pride under the cover of darkness in infrared, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Tayla had her own spot of luck this evening. As the last rays of sunlight faded to the west Tingana could be heard doing his nightly territorial rasping saw. Tayla soon caught up with him and followed as he marked his territory while calling out to all other males in the area, letting them know that he was the top formidable feline in the area. Following leopards at night through thick bush is easier said than done, he soon gave us the slip and not long after his tracks were found crossing out of our traverse.
Wednesday the 21st of September
The safariLIVE final control team was inundated with reports from the Djuma dam cam. Apparently the lions had been heard taking down yet another buffalo. This was later confirmed on the sunset safari however, the Nkuhuma pride had made the kill just north of Djuma and out of our traverse. After the disappointing news that our favourite lion pride was not around Jamie decided to head down to Cheetah Plains. Upon arrival the radio crackled into life once again with rumors of one of the Birmingham males. Jamie made her way to the sighting to discover the same male WE had seen the previous day. Once again he was reclined in absolute tranquility, paws skyward and head resting on the cool damp earth. As with the day before Jamie decided to leave the sleeping lion to explore the open plains before heading back under the cover of darkness. Sure enough once the blazing spring sun had set, the lion lifted his head. It took a little longer for him to eventually stand, stretch out the stiffness from sleeping all day and eventually head out. He didn’t stay active for long, he walked a short distance before eventually flopping down and getting stuck into a grooming session. With little to no indication that he intended to do anything, other than meticulously clean his massive front paws, Jamie eventually left in search of some more nighttime action.
(Flat cat Birmingham male lion, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Cheetah Plains)
Friday the 23rd of September
Over the past two days reports had indicated that the Nkuhuma pride had been firmly ensconced on a buffalo kill in Buffelshoek. That all changed when our incredible tracker Heuberth managed to relocate the lions back on Djuma and still resting up in their new favourite spot. The beautiful tawny lionesses and their eight little bundles of terror rested soundly in the slowly-greening bush. The effects of the rain earlier in the week had created a bright verdant flush that covered the dry dusty land in a carpet of green velvet. The lions had taken full advantage of this, nestled down in the soft new shoots, they slept away the sunlit hours of the day. Yet once the land was shrouded in darkness and it was time for our cameras to switch into infrared mode, the cats were up. Surprisingly they were not looking as full as you may expect after their reported beefy meal. So hunting was definitely on the cards, the lionesses ambled around the reserve and kept a sharp eye out for anything delicious looking. But this was to no avail, eventually they retreated to the steep, dense drainage line where they had left their cubs and settled in the pressing darkness for the night.
(Nkuhuma cubs resting among fresh green shoots, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
Saturday the 24th of September
A frenzy of feline action lay in store for the safariLIVE crew. First up was Tingana, the dominant male leopard of Djuma and Arathusa. He had been spotted with the ever energetic Shadow still hounding him for his affections. By the time Jamie had arrived in the sighting Tingana was already off at top speed clearly in search of a much needed break and a well deserved meal. Shadow, it seemed, had kept Tingana busy over the past few days and he looked skinnier than ever. He kept up quite the pace as he determinedly made his way through the reserve and took only short breaks to scent mark or call out his rasping roar. Eventually he came upon a herd of unawares impala and lay in patience, waiting for the right moment to strike. Unfortunately this moment never arrived. He then slowly ambled off into a particularly impenetrable block and his perfect spotted pelt quickly melted into the inky evening blackness.
(Tingana sporting a frh new scratch to his nose, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)
In the heart of Djuma four Nkuhuma pride lionesses had been lazing about during the daytime hours. Yet once darkness fell it was time to get up and head out. Their bellies were empty and their eyes filled with determination. Brent managed to keep a close eye on the famished felines as they prowled the night in search of their next victim. After walking for quite some time their body language suddenly changed and the chase was on. Thundering hooves wrenched the silence of the night air as a bachelor group of buffalo stormed past the vehicle with four hungry lions hot on their heals. A few seconds later the lionesses had singled out their target and the epic battle for life or death had begun. One lioness leapt onto the back of the buffalo bull with extreme agility while the others set to work on pulling out his back legs. The buffalo bellowed into the night and swung his massive hooked horns from side to side on the off chance that he might give one of the lionesses a flying lesson. But the Nkuhuma pride are far too wise and experienced to be caught off guard. He bucked and flailed vigorously and succeeded in unseating the lioness on his back, yet the lions’ reflexes and sense of teamwork was unshakable and just as soon as one fell, the next one was on top! The valiant old buffalo eventually fell to the ground, three of the Nkuhuma pride held down his hindquarters while the fourth braved the sharp end and went for the fatal nose hold. The battle lasted about 50 minutes from start to finish and eventually the lionesses walked away victorious. All four were exhausted from the hunt and took a brief reprieve to catch their breath before three of them set out in the direction of the cubs. Amber-Eyes remained at the kill site panting heavily while she licked at pooling blood next to the great buff behemoth. Eventually the other three lionesses returned with the eight little furballs. All the cubs wanted to do was play with their moms and aunts, while all the adults wanted to do was recover from the intense battle. Once at the kill the cubs immediately jumped upon the fallen buffalo and practiced their killing techniques with ferocity. Some time later the adults joined the cubs at the feast and WE eventually left the happy lion family to their well deserved dinner.
(Nkuhuma pride battling an old buffalo bull, Screenshot Credit: Gabi Hossain, safariLIVE, Djuma)