On a windy day in the Okavango, we record another episode of Safari Stories, this time recounting our last few days at Tubu Tree Camp. This week’s episode is all about lions as we recall two phenomenal sightings of these iconic predators in an area where lion sightings are normally few and far between.
On our first morning, we ventured out beyond Hunda Island and onto the vast floodplains of the Jao Concession where we managed to find a small pride of lions, consisting of two females and two youngsters on the move. We spent the whole morning with this lion family as they remained active until late in the morning. One of the beautiful things about being in this part of the Okavango, is that the area is so incredibly large and has so few lodges on it (with so few vehicles) that once you find an animal, you can often stay in the sighting for as long as you want. This is very special and certainly not always the case while on safari in other areas.
The lions were moving through the open floodplain and looked to be eagerly seeking out hunting opportunities. It was already pretty warm and while we were expecting the family to settle in for the day soon, they were in fact actively on the hunt. While the cubs were happily oblivious to their mothers’ intentions and milling around playing, a warthog popped out from a nearby island. Luckily the cubs didn’t spot the warthog but one of the lionesses did. She waited until the blissfully unaware warthog was about 50 feet away and then made her move, running straight at the warthog which immediately took flight. The warthog, though portly looking, managed to put distance between itself and the lioness very quickly. Though the lioness got to within just a few metres of its quarry, the warthog escaped with its life. We think that the lionesses was perhaps fatigued from hunting attempts during the night (hunting with cubs in tow can be challenging).
One of the lionesses runs straight at a warthog. Photo by Jomi
A few minutes later, around the corner of another island, the cubs spotted a family of warthogs and without any hesitation, stalking, or patience, ran straight after them. The perfect equation for a successful hunt... The warthogs, having quite the buffer zone, were able to trot away nonchalantly. The lion cubs’ mothers then had a few moments of peace and quiet before their offspring would return. And as luck would have it, yet another warthog family appeared out of thick grass, which also provided great cover for one of the adult lionesses to make her move, first crouching low and trotting in the direction of the warthogs, and then finally opening up into a full sprint. For all their clumsy looks, luck was to be on the side of the warthogs for the day and they managed to escape again.
One of the lion cubs perched on a fallen over tree with classic Delta backdrop. Photo by Jomi
The cubs re-joined their mothers who were walking at a normal pace again. Then, a rustle in a nearby bush and in the blink of an eye this happened: both the lionesses along with our guide Delta spotted a large male kudu in a bush. A big male kudu weighs easily 1.5x the amount a lioness does and is not an easy meal to take down. The lionesses, seemingly desperate, ran straight into the thicket, appearing to catch the kudu as a violent shake of the bushes ensued. We heard a distress call from the kudu, but then shortly after saw the tips of his horns moving with pace out of the thicket. It seemed the kudu, with its sheer strength, had been able to shake off its pursuers. A lucky move which meant the kudu got away and the lions once again were left empty handed (or pawed).
We continued following the small pride as they now sought to quench their thirst, beelining for a waterhole nearby. There was an amazing moment as all four lions lined up next to each other by the water’s edge and laid down to drink. After drinking, they then lay down under a bush nearby and groomed each other before drifting off into a deep slumber.
The pride comes for a drink. Photo by Jomi
Our lion sightings were punctuated by other short sightings. We encountered a massive buffalo herd one evening just after sunset and watched as they trotted past, kicking up a tremendous amount of dust and creating the sound of thunder as their 2,000+ hooves hit the ground. The resulting video footage was some of our favourite from the whole trip (see video above).
Buffalo herd at dusk. Photo by Jomi
On the last morning, we set off to find the buffalo herd again and bumped into the Camp Female’s 9-month old leopard cub in the middle of the Tubu airstrip as it was eyeing up some zebra in the distance, only to decide upon smaller prey and run off chasing some nearby francolins (think a small bush chicken).
The cub on the runway. Photo by Jomi
We carried on looking for the mega buffalo herd and while stopped in a sighting of some elephants, Delta heard them in the distance. We drove in the direction of the herd and managed to find a few solitary individuals (older adult male buffalo are known as dagga boys.) Upon driving closer, we discovered that the herd had split into several smaller groups that were scattered among the floodplain and islands in the vicinity. By complete surprise, really close to one of these groups and separated only by a palm thicket was a lioness, walking with its head down. It looked like it had recently missed a hunting opportunity and was looking for members of its pride. We managed to find the rest of the pride, again a group of four individuals, yet four different ones to the previous sighting. We spent the next two hours viewing the pride as they made several attempts at penetrating the buffalo’s defences. Only once did they come close to taking one of the calves. Buffalo are simply massive animals though and in numbers can usually square up to and hold off lions. The fact that there were many buffalo and only three adult lionesses and one sub-adult meant that the lions’ chances were slim. We did watch a number of to-and-froing as the lions would stalk and chase the buffalo and in turn the buffalo would then turn and chase the lions off again. The lions didn’t quite muster the courage to really mount a full attack and in the end we left them as they were staring each other down after several hours of very entertaining interactions.
Lion and buffalo: sworn enemies. Photo by Jomi
What an incredible few days at Tubu it has been. Join us again next week as we return to the Delta and Chitabe Camp, where more wildlife surprises were in store for us.
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