A Rare Encounter with Big Cats

One Sunday, early-evening, as I sat in my crooked little house watching the Crooked River Luangwa’s hippos make their way to the grazing grounds, there was a knock on my door. This knock usually means one thing; unexpected guests in camp, but not on this day. There stood a guy proudly wearing a “Zambian Carnivore Programme” shirt. He told me that they had been following lion signals right up to Wildlife Camp (some lions in the Luangwa Valley are fitted with radio-collars) but that they did not want to continue their search on the camp’s private property without permission.

“Sure” I said, “but I’ll have to go with you or else you’ll get lost!” To be honest, I just wanted a glimpse of the lions…

Lions, even the ones that beep when they are near, are not easy to find, but luck was on our side. Leaving Wildlife Camp’s car-park we drove not more than 100 meters and there she was – a collared lioness standing on the road, right in front of camp where I had walked an hour earlier! Right where the guests having cold beers in the restaurant could see her! Fantastic!

Suddenly a large male (whom we later identified as the 5-and-a-half-year-old Limpie) also strolled out of the bush. Limpie had never been seen on our side of the Luangwa River, and we guess that he had been lured across by a hippo carcass not too far from camp.

Because Limpie had never been seen in this area, and the fact that the collared females had cubs which did not belong to Limpie, we decided to stay with them for as long as they allowed us.

LionsonElephantCarcass_LuangwaSNot showing much interest in the female, the male continued his march into the thick bush 20 meters in front of the restaurant, then dissapeared into the mixture of combretum, wild jasmine and white-berry. Bones started crunching as he feasted on a warthog that, in probablility, he did not kill himself. This was going to be a long night!

Knowing that the lions would be around for a while, we started knocking on chalet doors offering to bring guests to see the feast; it is not everyday that two lions eat in front of our restaurant! Can you imagine opening your door to a night-watchman asking, “Would you like to see a lion sir?”

By 22:00 the excitment was over and now it was just me and the researchers doing research. We collected fresh lion droppings, took as many ID photos as possible and dotted down each and every move.

22:30 – Male marks his territory

23:43 – Female approaches carcass but is chased off

00:37 – Hyenas approached carcass and are chased off

01:14 – Both lions go for a drink in the river

02:02 – Female approaches male and initiates mating

02:27 – Male approaches female and initiates mating

03:16 – Male marks his territory and grunts loadly

03:17 – Female initiates mating

03:29 – Female initiates mating

03:30 – Female approaches carcass but is chased off by male

And so it continued all through the night. At 5:00 we could see Wildlife Camp wake up once again as the watchmen gave wake- up-calls to those going for early morning safaris. And as people gathered in the restaurant, they were surprised to see the lions still there.

At 06:00 staff were placed in the different sections of the camp, warning guests not to walk down to the restaurant, “because there are lions.”

At 07:00 the male finally allowed the female to grab the warthog carcass and together they dissapeared down towards the river.

It was an amazing night – yes, it was cold and the mosquitoes made a meal of us. But spending such quality time the Kings of Africa was incredibly special. And as one guests put it: “I never knew you served lions in your restaurant – sharing a meal with them was the best thing about the whole trip.”

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