I had been following a white rhino track from near the water hole in the hopes of catching up and viewing him, but he seemed to be on a mission and was not stopping to graze or rest up. I later found out the reason why on another walk through the same area. There was a female with a young calf in his territory that he had gone to meet up with.
On our dogleg back to the vehicle I noticed a single lioness track leading in the direction of the small rocky koppie near to the Girivana waterhole.
I was hoping she had been out hunting and would join up with the pride in the area, which consisted of three magnificent blond males and four females, of which the dominant female is blind in her right eye.
After being on her spoor for about a kilometre, there was still no sign of other lion, and I noticed she had swung towards the koppie. When I put the binoculars on the koppie I saw a troop of baboons feeding in a fig tree, in the direction in which her spoor was leading, so figured she must have passed through the area before being detected by the baboons.
We continued on her spoor with the intention of viewing the baboons on the way. The spoor led through a small pass in the koppie and we had approached to within about 20 metres from the baboons, when my eye caught a movement to my right about two metres away.
It was the lioness, and on making eye contact she suddenly dashed off without a sound. Slight heart-stopping moment, but it was all so fast and such unusual behaviour, especially as the baboons also did not detect her fleeing. On closer investigation I noticed the three cubs, and realised her predicament. She did not want to compromise her cubs to the baboons who would surely have killed them. Their eyes were not yet open, and I estimated their age at 4-5 days old.
I allowed some hurried pictures to be taken and we moved swiftly out of the area. The baboons were none the wiser.
I am sure without the presence of the baboons the outcome would surely have been different. So thanks to our hairy cousins for saving our bacon! I did return to the cubs some days later, and they were in good health and growing rapidly.
By Mark Wilson