MAY 2014 - Botswana Lions
Posted by Wild4 Photo Safaris on 1st May 2014
I thought I would post a short blog on an interesting sighting we had last year in the Moremi Game Reserve, on the eastern fringe of the Okavango Delta.
As usual our mornings start early on safari and we were huddled around our morning campfire to keep warm and enjoy a nice cup of coffee and a few rusks. We were interrupted by a Lion roaring very close by. We went to see if we could spot the culprit, and sure enough, there stood a male lion about 80 meters from our camp, looking in our direction and he roared again.. if you have ever experienced a Lion roaring close to you, it is an amazing experience !!
We then hastily collected our equipment and clambered aboard the vehicle in pursuit of the male who had started to walk with purpose away from us - perhaps he had heard something ?
We soon caught up to him and our guide - Pat very carefully passed the Lion so that we could be on the other side of him and take photos as he walked towards us.
We did a couple of these walk by's when Pat spotted a Leopard at the base of a tree. On the other side of the tree we could see a couple more Lions who appeared to be feeding on a kill. Closer examination of the Leopards face through the binoculars indicated that it had also been feeding and our presumption was that it had killed something and was feeding when the Lions had stormed in and stole its food (most likely having heard the commotion of the kill)
Observing the animals closely (this is where a pair of binoculars becomes very useful on a safari) is very important as once you can fit the pieces of the puzzle together, you can then predict the animals next move. This is important when you are trying to get your vehicle into the best position so that you have a clear view of the animals behaviour.
The Male Lion we had first seen, had obviously heard the commotion of the two Lions taking over the Leopards kill and that is why he had walked with a purpose, not just ambling along, he even trotted a few times whilst we followed him. This was indicative behaviour that something else was going on.
Knowing that the male was on his way, we predicted that something might happen when he arrived at the kill site. He may or may not have known the Lions that were there, so we prepared ourselves for some kind of interaction.
There was another Male Lion and one female at the kill site. The Male was dominant over the female at the kill and was refusing her access to the kill, although she looked as though she had been feeding at some stage.
The look of both the male Lions struck me as being quite unusual, they both looked as though they had been to the barber and asked for a buzz cut !!! I had never before seen such unusual manes on male lions and they clearly shared a similar gene. They were most likely brothers.
However the Male we had followed did not rush in to the kill, indicating that he was perhaps the less dominant of the two (one is usually more dominant) and he hung back at a safe distance observing.
Both the female and Male at the kill observed the new arrival closely to determine what his intentions were. When he showed submissive behaviour by lying down in the grass, the male with the kill continued to feed.
After a while the less dominant male got up and walked around the pair at the same safe distance and came across a place where the Lioness had urinated, this triggered another behaviour known as the "flehmen response" where the animal draws the scent of the urine through a small duct just behind the front teeth, into a special organ above the roof of the mouth known as the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson's Organ. The top lips are pulled back, the nose closed and the teeth are exposed during this response. It is done to transfer air containing pheromones and other scents to this chemosensory organ to provide chemical cues which animals use in a variety of ways, such as identifying reproductive status.
The female who was on her own with the male might have already been mating with the male (they normally leave the pride during the mating phase and would explain why the female was on her own). Depending on where she is in the mating cycle, both male and female do not usually show much interest in hunting or eating. In this case however, the Leopard who was certainly unaware of the honeymoon couple's presence, made her kill which attracted the sleepy couple and their instinct was to chase their competition and steal the food.
We of course do not know that this was the scenario for sure as we did not witness it, but it is a strong possibility.
Eventually the Male we had first seen roaring near our camp, walked away from the pair and we followed him until he went to rest under a bush.
Observations and interactions like these are what make a photo safari in Africa so appealing, you never know what you might see and each day is totally different to the next !!
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Any aspiring photographer who has not yet been on a wildlife safari should join a WILD4 with Stu and Justyna Porter. You will be guided by a graduate professional photographer who is also a highly-qualified South African field guide. Stu's knowledge of photography and his understanding of African wildlife are exceptional. He is also blessed with an amazing spotter's eyesight. I often thought to myself, how on earth did he see that! As each day begins all these talents are passed on with sincerity and quiet enthusiasm to each photographer's needs. Nothing is ever too much trouble and his positioning of the vehicle for the best light and animal profile is always his first consideration. On our tour there were times for laughter and many times when action and adrenalin ran high. Any successful safari is only as good as its backup team. This family company is most ably supported by Stu's wife Justyna who is the drive behind the scenes and efficiently arranges the accommodation and all the logistics. Stu's mother, Ann Porter provides excellent food for the day in the park and around the campfire at night. Both are qualified field guides and their spotting abilities add greatly to each day's safari. This particular trip was most rewarding in both personal and photographic terms and one of the best we have ever enjoyed. Sincere thanks to you all.
Slim & Barbara Callaghan, UK
My wife Joanie and I joined Wild4 for the Best of Kruger and Big Cats in August of 2014. It was our very first trip on an African safari. I’m a serious amateur photographer and my wife’s a non-photographer but both of us enjoyed the trip thoroughly ! To this day, we still regularly recall the highlights of sightings and events fondly. True to Wild4’s brand promise, Stu Porter delivers maximum photographic times spent chasing photo opportunities out in the field - out 6am as soon as the camp gate opens and back only 6pm when the gate closes. Having no more than three photographers on each of two jeeps allows every photographer immediate access to both sides of the vehicle. Stu always knows where to position the vehicle for the best vantage points. Every day has its highs – big cat chases and kills, grazers sparring, herds of elephants and buffaloes appearing from nowhere at water holes... Thanks to Stu and the enthusiasm and knowledge of experienced senior guide Mike Lentz. Camps in Kruger are basic (by first world standards) but hey this is a safari ! There’s the important benefit of being only a short drive away from dams, good spots to catch the first light when the sun rises. This is important as the gates do not open till 6am so there’s little margin for being late. I had the opportunity to experience first-hand, the Wild4 team’s dedication and commitment to a successful photo trip for guests, beyond the call of duty. The Wild4 team helped solved a major photographic equipment problem. Early afternoon on Day 5, the lens AF motor on my 400mm telephoto lens failed. This was really a disaster on a trip like this, as (like everyone else) I had a spare camera body but not a spare super telephoto lens ! The other lens I had was a medium telephoto zoom, hardly a lens to use with tele-converters. Murphy’s Law indeed ! This happened with seven more days to go ! I enquired with Stu about hiring a lens from the nearby towns. Stu sprang into action immediately whilst still on the afternoon game drive - got his back-office team to make enquiries back in Nelspruit town. This was something new to the Wild4 team as they never had to hire a lens but they found a lens on the same day, a 200-400mm that’s also ideal for safari. The lens had to be dispatched from almost 200 km away and Mr John Porter helped to drive south to collect the lens sooner. I had the use of this lens by the morning of Day 7, with one-and-half day “downtime” in a remote location. Service excellence lived by as a core value indeed. After eight nights I left Kruger National Park with the feeling that I was just warming up and was leaving too soon. I would have gladly extended a few more days if that was possible. But we were bound for the next destination. I notice Wild4 has not been static. More new trips were added. I see the enterprise is growing fast ! Joanie and I are now looking forward to a trip to Kenya, again with Stu and the Wild4 team.
Steve Seow, Singapore