By Rudi Lorist
It was late afternoon on April 24, 2007 when I drove a Metsi Metsi Wilderness trail out on an afternoon walk. It became much shorter than intended due to what we were about to see. I was informed by some of the roadwork personnel that lions were spotted on the road to Lower Sabie and true to their word, we found them a few kilometres down the road.
Two cubs were lying on the road and a male was lying about 50 metres away in the bush to the left. We noticed some vultures on the low shrubs to the right, which meant only one thing – a carcass. We entered the road leading to the quarry and came across five females, another male and four cubs. The male showed unusual aggressiveness towards the vehicle.
As we arrived, the females and cubs scattered from what looked like entrails and ribs visible through the grass. Trails assistant Phillip Gumede, who has worked in the park for the past 27 years, pointed out that the entrails didn't resemble that of a herbivore, as they were black and very thin compared to that of antelope species.
As we drove closer we saw that it was a carcass of a lioness. All the muscles from the back and neck were eaten, the skin was pulled over the head, one of the front legs - already half eaten - ripped off and lying about five metres from the carcass. I told the group of trailists sitting in awe behind me that this was not a usual occurrence.
Lions are known to often kill nomad lions moving into the pride’s territory, but feeding on her is a different matter. As I got out to take a blood smear from the tail, which is the normal procedure whenever unusual deaths occur, I was charged by not one, but three lions trying to protect the carcass - one male and two females.
The females were charging, possibly because the cubs were still nearby and thus protecting them. The blood smear done, we continued on our way to the walk.
I took the blood smear to At Dekker at the state veterinary offices for analysis. I also spoke to Dr Dewald Keet, who told me that it was probably a nomad lioness in the area and the resident females killed her.
Cannibalism among lions is unusual according to Dr Keet, but it was possible that the cubs were feeding on the carcass due to hunger. According to other sources, lion cannibalism is not that uncommon as previous incidences have been reported.