Walking the path of the lion, the king of the earth, is indeed a privilege that awakens one's spirit and leaves one with the most precious memories of exploring the land of the lion. One day while walking along the Timbavati River, we came across vultures in a Jackalberry tree. Further investigation revealed that two male lions were on a kudu kill, but were well concealed by the reeds.
The two males were Shumba and Warrior, resident males of the Kingfisherspruit pride. Warrior walked out of the reeds onto a sandy patch and lay there watching us; eventually he went off to the northern bank of the river. We moved to the southern bank for a better view of the patch of reeds.
Shumba was feeding on the kudu bull as silently as possible; no crushing of bones was heard. Perhaps he had sensed us and did not want to reveal his position. Suddenly, without warning, he charged but withdrew immediately; however, he didn't stop growling until we were out of his sight. All the time Warrior was simply observing from the opposite bank of the river. Shumba's intentions were not to injure us but to warn us of the potential outcome of us coming too close to their well deserved meal.
A few weeks later I noticed that Shumba had a lower canine missing when he yawned early one morning. This could potentially be a reason why he showed some aggression and remained at the kill. Most likely he could not consume food at the same rate as Warrior due to his dental problems.
This, coupled with his sore front left foot that makes him limp, could also explain why he stalked me when I was standing away from the rest of the walking party at Rabelais Dam. His stalk was not to destroy me but perhaps to test his skills against another lion of the human form. I later followed his tracks with the party for almost an hour, but he kept well ahead of us at all times and we never got to see him during the walk.
Shumba reacted differently weeks later when he was the only male present at a wildebeest kill with the rest of the pride in Nwantihlaru wilderness area. As we got out of the vehicle to walk through the bush, three lions were heard roaring close to where we were. From the roar one could tell there was definitely a male in the pride.
I led the group in the direction of the roar slowly and carefully scanning the bush ahead for any signs. The feelings were mixed among group members for this was a definite visit to the king's throne where you'll never be 100 percent sure whether you are welcome or not. Instinctively taking a game path branching in their direction we did not see any tracks or signs of the lions along the path but further on, one track of a limping male lion followed the path from the magic guarri thickets.
There was dead silence, not even the birds called during this period; perhaps we heard nothing due to our natural fear of the visit to the lions. All of a sudden as I walked behind a magic guarri bush, I came face-to-face with a lioness. She fixed her gaze on me and our eyes locked for a while before the rest of the group saw her.
She growled and fled, followed by Shumba who I could identify the moment that I saw him. There was no resentment from the lions that we could hear growling from the bushes around us as we walked up to the wildebeest bull that they were feeding on.
They fled, but did not go far. They maintained their space and we maintained ours. Early February Shumba had mated with a lioness from the pride as witnessed at the Orpen plains and his own offspring were feeding on the same wildebeest that we walked up on as they fled. Shumba can easily be identified by his mane, which is darker than his brother's, and falls sideways whereas Warrior's sticks up straight on the nape.
He mates with the females more than Warrior maybe because he is darker maned and has a more impressive appearance than Warrior. Warrior has a scar on his left eye, an infection that turned into a dark black patch which is highly visible even in the night.
This scar he received when he was in the company of three sub-adult males, it could have been due to retaliation by one of the sub-adults as they were at that point in their lives where they are chased out of the pride to start a life of their own. In April, Shumba and Warrior teamed up to fight two nomadic lions that were just over six years.
The age of the lions could be determined by the colour of the nomads' noses, which were not completely black but still showed a red tinge. A lion's nose is usually completely black at an age of about nine years, however individual variations are common. These two nomads have not been seen in the area since April.
Shumba and Warrior displaced two territorial males that were there before them. Their predecessors were known as Scarface (had a long scar on his face) and Mr T (had a tail injury) and their reign ended mid-2005 when Shumba and Warrior took over.
Later in the month of April while tracking the Kingfisherspruit pride, I saw a lion's mane sticking out of the grass as the wind blew. It was Shumba lying in the shade of small bushes, well concealed with a fixed stare on the group. I approached him to 20 metres until he started showing signs of uneasiness.
Beside him were the females, clumped up in a small shady patch in a crouched position. The sun was very hot and they were not interested in moving out of the shade in a hurry. Something could have gone wrong, but they respected our mission and saved us trouble for the day.
In May the same pride killed a young wildebeest along the main tourist road from Orpen to Satara. Again Shumba was the only male present in the pride with his brother nowhere to be found. Most researchers have found that male lions feed first at a kill followed by the females and lastly the cubs in a hierarchal manner.
This was not the case at this particular incident. Shumba actively chased off the females and the large cubs from the kill only to allow his three cubs that had just been introduced to the pride to eat. It looked like he chewed on flesh and left it for the cubs to eat as if he had been tenderising the meat for his babies. Three weeks later, the two brothers visited us at 02h00 while we were camping at the Bundu Camp. All we could hear at first was the contact call between the two, this sound is only audible over short distances.
One male walked into camp and lay by the side of my tent, I could hear him sneezing and hitting his tail against my tent. Guests sleeping in the other tents did not hear much initially until Shumba and Warrior started roaring at the top of their voice, centimetres from where my tent was pitched.
Fortunately no one dared to come out of the tents though the lions could definitely hear heartbeats from inside the tents. They left us tracks and a message that they are still the kings of the land before they disappeared into the darkness. My observations and experiences with lions in the Kingfisherspruit section have drawn me closer to the lion as a brother, a teacher and a guiding spirit.
The lion is a dignified animal that has been used in history as a symbol of power and strength and authority since the beginning of creation, not only in Africa but throughout the world. Lions are not only beautiful-looking big cats but are spiritual ancestors for the African people who lived in the wilds long before cultures and traditions were lost.
Lessons learnt from lions in the wild are that each individual member is equally powerful where the total focus is on clear cut and realistic goals. The lion's spirit consists of trust, confidence, respect and pride. The lion's training is intense from the day it is born, a unique kind of training that ensures that the pride as a whole is more powerful than the sum of the strengths of its individuals.
Walking through the land of the lion is also a journey filled with freedom. Freedom to penetrate where the heart desires, freedom to walk with no restrictions, freedom to walk like a lion with pride and dignity. However, encounters of the bush are not always predictable and not always from the lion himself but from other fellows with tusks and horns not designed for friendly purposes.
On one bright morning, we went on a walk in the gabbroic plains of Kingfisherspruit. We came across fresh buffalo tracks and dung heading in the western direction of the plains. There was no sign of oxpeckers or sounds from the buffalo and it appeared that it was just a small herd that had moved through and were probably moving fast.
We decided to cut them short and went in a straight line to where we thought they would rest for the morning. On arrival, the first thing I heard was the sound of buffalo talking to one another as they rest. We had found them and to my surprise it was not a small herd - there were just over 200.
This was a wonderful sighting which none of us could resist. Among the buffalo was a female with deformed horns, she was the first to pick up our smell when the wind changed. Such animals are like tuskless female elephants, they are of a very aggressive nature.
The whole herd eventually became aware of us, but like a pride of lions we remained still and fearless. The herd then reacted typically, coming forward for a better view and then rushing away from us only to stop again a distance away. As we withdrew from the scene, the herd stampeded in our direction at full speed - something had spooked them from the other direction.
This was a now a moment of uncertainty and we had to act very fast. Rodney Landela and myself challenged the buffalo and they stopped suddenly ten metres in front of where we stood. Warriors never run in a situation like this, and as the buffalo ran in the opposite direction we were covered only by the dust churned up by the hooves of 200 animals with horns of steel.
After the dust settled, a lion roared amongst the bushes. It was a male's voice and it was the voice of the father assuring us of eternal protection from him, the king of kings. We never got to see the lion, but whether it was Shumba or Warrior or any other male, we still praise him. Long live the lion!
By Stephen Midzi