June 5, 2015

First impressions - a warm welcome indeed

The first drive for the new group of students was certainly one that they will remember.

Darkness enshrouded the road as our vehicles careful picked a path down the old 2-track.  After about 200m of meandering through some thick bush, we caught the first glimpse of eye shine in the long grass.  Necks craned to get a better look of what lay before us and it wasn’t long before the magnificence of a male lion came into view.  His belly was full as he lifted his head to watch our approach.  After a short time, he succumbed to his digestive task, panting heavily as he tried to deal with the extra 40-50kgs of meat now resting in his grossly distended stomach!  The students were overjoyed – and rightly so!  At only 4 and half, ‘Sub-Zero’ as he is known, is a hugely impressive specimen of lion.  Having grown up in a reserve with no competition, he has been able to focus all of his energy into growing, and it shows.  At this relatively tender age, he is already sporting a thick dark mane and must tip the scales at well over 200kgs.

As we tried to ascertain the origin of his bulging belly, a crack rang out through the still night.  Moments later, another; followed by an aggressive snarl that cut through the silence of the African bush. Lions on a kill!  We edged the land rovers around a thicket and on the other side found the rest of the pride feasting on a freshly killed zebra.  Such is the pecking order of lions, the male would have satiated his immense appetite before allowing the other members to eat their fill.  This they were doing with relish!  After a few minutes however, the male decided that there was still more space in his stomach and he waddled back to the kill to gorge himself further.

For the next 20minutes the students sat engrossed as ribs were cracked by powerful teeth and the scissoring motion of the powerful carnassial teeth cut away chunks of protein-rich flesh.  Thanks to the habituation levels of Karongwe’s pride, all this was happening a mere 10m from where we sat!  There was no need to discuss the behaviour being exhibited: nature’s brutality was there for all to see!  The only sound to accompany the gnashing of teeth and snarls as the choice cuts were argued over was the click of cameras as the students filled up memory cards trying ingrain the memory in digital format for eternity.

Time however is always against us and as the full moon cast its ethereal glow across the bushveld, dinner called and we began the trip home bathed in the soft moonlight.  Conversation boiled with memories of the scene just witnessed but the bush was not done with us yet!  As we rounded a corner, we were met with the sleek profile of a large female leopard in the road!  She watched us momentarily before melting away into an impenetrable thicket but not before we could positively identify that she was heavily pregnant!  In time we hope to bring you news of some new arrivals to the reserve!!  Finally we arrived back at camp – what a drive!!  And just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, we were treated to burger night! 

New recruits, welcome to Karongwe!!

Blog post and photos by Ben Coley

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