We went out looking for the lions yesterday. Recently some zebra and wildebeest were caught in poachers snares in the reserve. It was a remote area and nobody found the carcasses - but the lions did. No doubt they heard the distress cries. Lions and hyenas moved in to claim the kills. Some lions were caught in snares in the process. Being caught in a snare is a slow and painful death. The lion research group, tracked the lions to the scene of carnage. By then most of the animals caught in the snares - including some of the cubs that had visited our house - were dead. One lioness was still alive - she had caught the snare between her jaws and her face was severely wounded as a result. She has been sent to a rehabilitation center where her physical wounds should heal in time. I am sorry if this is shocking, but this is how it is.
We heard that the lions had moved back into our part of the reserve. There are now only six lions left in this pride - the big male and his two askaris (sons), two females and one young daughter. Three of them are wearing collars which allows the research group to find them and keep track of their lives. We also have a receiver, although ours is a little more antiquated. In this area it can be very confusing as the signal can bounce off the granite koppies and lead you in totally the wrong direction. We found the signal just around sunset. The whole pride were still together, so we drove on a small track around a group of koppies where we thought they were. The pride in its former glory had once spent several weeks based in this koppie when the cubs were too small to travel far.
As darkness fell so softly, and swiftly, the dry yellow grasses and small bushes, all took their turns at becoming monochrome lions. A movement here or there, a sound of twigs cracking, a swirl of yellow grass - pulled our attention in every direction waiting for the gods of the night to enter the scene. We followed tracks and strained our ears for sounds of their calling - but who would they call to now anyhow?
It grew dark. The pool of our headlights took over from the gathering dark. We stopped to listen. Suddenly, morphing out of the grass and trees came two lionesses, the soft sound of their large footpads hitting dust were all that told of their appearance. They strode purposefully - no social graces this time. They looked rangy, feral. They walked straight to the back of our vehicle and in turn, had a look over the side before moving on and fading into the dark again. Were they ghosts? We wondered if they associated the vehicle with identical ones used in the capture and translocation of the snared pride members.
The big male followed on their trail making soft growling-purring noises. He too visited the back of our vehicle and then walked on. Next the two young males and finally, the youngest remaining member of the pride - a female sub adult. She alone stopped at the edge of the clearing and looked at us, stopped a while, and then walked on.
We turned to follow them and there in our lights was the young female, waiting for us - as the whole pride used to do.