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Lions , Photography , Sunday Stories. The guys have pulled me out with a tractor too many times to remember, although I try to make sure a six-pack of Coca-Colas always makes its way to the workshop as a thank you. When a sighting is in a tricky position, I often try to get in first and worry about getting out with the vehicle later, and this has been my undoing on a number of occasions.
In March of this year I was driving two wonderful guests from Germany who were here on a two week stay. Two weeks, as you can imagine, is plenty of time in which to immerse yourself in the bush. The great thing about a stay of this length is the complete lack of pressure on each drive. You can just go with the flow and let things happen, not having to search exclusively for leopards or lions or high-profile game.
Crossing the Sand River , we were surprised to see relatively fresh lion tracks coming in from the west. I radioed Tom Imrie to confirm, and he and Jerry Hambana had only found tracks of a pride crossing west.
See a Problem?
Probably not more than a couple of hours old. We presumed it was the Tsalala pride, who are renowned for moving during the heat of the day, and decided to follow. The fresh track of a lioness always raises pulses. The tracks were moving in and out of the river, and although following the tracks in the sandy sections was relatively straightforward, the going was slow, as the river has many dense palm thickets which can conceal a grumpy hippo or buffalo bull and we were moving carefully.
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After over an hour of following, the tracks had crossed to the southern bank, still heading eastwards, and Mike Sithole and Elmon Mhlongo, convinced we were right on the heels of the lions by now, instructed me to head back to the vehicle — which was parked on the northern bank still — and bring it round to meet them on the southern side. Arriving back at the Land Rover I explained to the guests exactly what was happening with the tracks and the plan from thereon in as we sped off to the closest river crossing.
Approaching the crossing point there is a section of road along the high northern bank from which you look down upon an extensive sandbank only exposed when the river is low , and as we moved past we noticed a buffalo bull who looked relatively agitated, out in the middle of the sand. Not wanting to waste time, we continued to the crossing point.
Now, when the river has only just started subsiding after the summer rains, Finfoot crossing is quite easy to get stuck in. You have to keep the revs up and not stop for anything. Figuring the buffalo we had seen may have been harassed by the lions we were tracking, we all stared fixedly upstream towards the sandbank as we roared across the river. There was a lion! Thankfully we made it to the southern bank without getting stuck, and trundled upstream on the sandy southern bank towards where we had seen the lion.
The Tailless Tsalala lioness splashes her way through the main channel. Having investigated whatever she needed to investigate, she headed back to rejoin the pride. As we got closer we could see exactly what was happening.
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The Tsalala pride was trying to take on three rather large buffalo bulls, and were coming off second best. Although one buffalo may have been manageable for the lions, three big males, still in good condition from the lush summer grazing, were too much for the pride to handle. I engaged low range, revved up and charged in, and promptly sank up to my axles, moving not even an inch further. We were properly bogged down, and had to watch all the action from our seats in midstream.
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We have mentioned before on the blog how getting low down when taking photographs, at least to eye-level with the subject, can enhance the picture that much more, and here suddenly we found ourselves at eye-level by default. Although under no immediate threat, the pride felt compelled to move off quickly for some reason.
A slower shutter speed blurred the background a bit, highlighting the fact that the lions were on the move. The pride, having realised they were not to be successful in their buffalo hunt, regrouped in front of us, moved a little way down stream, and then to our absolute delight, waded across the river together. Lions crossing water is always a special sight, but to see them in this way, from down low, in the fading evening light, was somewhat surreal.
The Tailless female leads the way into the water. A rare photographic opportunity, thanks to an absolute blunder! Having paused on a sandbank to glance back towards the buffalo, the Tailless female now forms the rearguard of the pride. They regrouped on the bank and moved off into the gathering dusk, leaving us to radio for a tractor to pull us out.
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Filed under Lions Photography Sunday Stories. James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills that complemented his Honours degree in Zoology meant that he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the You must be logged in to post a comment. Great blog James and fantastic images and what an exciting experience! It just goes to show, that sometimes misfortune can turn into the most amazing opportunity.
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Nice to see Tsalala pride back on Londolozi. They were enjoyed at Djuma and Arathusa. Thank you for the beautiful photos. It is amazing how by taking your time and without the need to tick the box for species what can develop. Let year with Simon Smit, I had one of my best ever game drives , simply by turning off the engine and watching.
There is a lot to be said for taking a drive at a quieter pace. You just never know..
We had some surprises when we were there in April.. Sometimes it IS good to live in the moment blunder or not!