Zambia: The thrill of the chase

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Phil Clisby recalls witnessing lions on the hunt in South Luangwa National Park

HR_Phil-Clisby_lion_IMG_1137“I want to see a male lion and a kill, please,” says Jordan, a fellow guest on our safari vehicle for our last drive in South Luangwa. Jonathan, our guide, gives him a knowing look. “Mmmm,” he mumbles. We charge off. It seems like Jonathan is on a mission. After twenty minutes of driving at fullish pelt, he brakes abruptly.

Lying on top of a ridge above the river are nine lions, taking advantage of the shade: two of them with their heads up, on lookout, while the others sleep.

“These are part of a 26-strong pride,” says Jonathan. “There are three males in this group, so one may be around here.”

Our excitement rises. We charge onwards, down onto a dry riverbed. We stop. About 150 metres away lie three lionesses, three cubs and the King of the Jungle himself. We cross the riverbed for a better vantage point. The male rolls over onto his back, his legs up in the air.

Nothing much is happening, and we can’t get any closer, so we drive back, stopping in the middle of the riverbed when one of the cubs paws at his dad, clearly annoying him. He gets up, moves a few yards and settles down again.

Another vehicle tries to get past us and gets stuck in the sand, creating a huge cloud of black smoke as he struggles to get out.

The commotion seems to have disturbed the pride. The lionesses are on the move, and they are heading straight towards us. There’s tension in the air.

At the last moment they divert their course and saunter around the back of our vehicle. We breathe a collective sigh of relief. “There’s buffalo over there,” says Jonathan, pointing to some bushes some way off. “The lions look hungry and are off to hunt. They have left the dad to babysit.”

We move in for a closer look at the male, but still keeping our distance. The three cubs do likewise to us. The mane man is up on his feet. Padding towards us. We forget to breathe again… but he passes by, barely looking at us – he’s off to check on how his women are getting on. We set off in pursuit of the lionesses. Will Jordan’s wish come true? Will we see a kill?

After five minutes we stop. To our right we see two buffalo between the trees, on lookout. They can smell something is up. To our left we spot the three lions, moving stealthily through the scrub, spreading out, ready for a three-pronged attack. The one on the right flank passes directly in front of us. She’s out in the open. Surely she’s given the game away? But she quickly blends back into the undergrowth. The two buffalo remain on their guard. We see the other two lions moving forwards now, more swiftly, and suddenly there’s an almighty commotion behind a bush and the buffalo scatter.

The lions have pounced, but missed. Destined to go hungry for a while longer.

For us, it’s not the winning, but the taking part that counts.

 

Phil and his family stayed at Flatdogs Camp, South Luangwa National Park.

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