During a visit to Porini Lions Camp, we had the luxury of the afternoon game drives stretching up to almost 8 pm. Our first lion sighting of the day was during an evening drive and what a majestic sight it was! Nineteen lions of the Enkoyanai pride spread out on the plains of Olare Motorogi Conservancy, enjoying the post-sunset coolness.
I learnt that this pride started to form around 2007, when 4 lionesses found refuge here. Two large males joined them and took over the pride. During the migration season of 2008, the pride was blessed with 10 cubs but there was a fear that these cubs may all starve when the herbivores moved south post migration.
The management of the conservancy did not bend down despite growing pressure from outside to feed the pride as they felt that this situation arose from “poor parenting”. However, this “cruel” approach worked as the starving lions were forced to learn how to hunt. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention/discovery!
They lost only 2 out of the 8 cubs which is an acceptable survival rate. Not “sparing the rod” prevented similar starvation disasters from happening in the future and the pride seemed to have learnt that they needed to aggressively hunt for food during non-migration months. The pride has since multiplied and are the second largest pride in the conservancy.
We spent quite some time just watching the lions enjoy the cool evening breeze after the scorching heat of the day – playing, snuggling, rolling and generally lazing around. Most of the adult females were pregnant and were in no mood to frolick with the sub adults. However, there was one, aptly named the Babysitter, who had a gentler and more loving disposition. The “meet and greet” ritual we witnessed will be forever etched in my mind. Around 12 sub-adults rushing happily towards the pregnant but maternal Babysitter was a sight to behold! The cuddling, body rubbing, rolling over, licking and jumping around rituals warmed up the cockles of my heart. Sadly, it was quite dark and I have no good photos to document this amazing ritual.
And then we saw Mohican – at first a jaw-dropping silhoutte of this majestic dominant male of the pride walking towards us – his dark mane looking even more regal and awe-inspiring in the twilight. I was instantly reminded of the killer lions in movie Ghosts of the Darkness. He kept a distance from the rest of his brood, but he was around them, keeping a keen eye.
Next morning, we witnessed the brilliant African sun rise up in the horizon and met the same pride again – this time, basking in the sun and looking quite relaxed and well-fed. The momma of the pride, Babysitter, was also there, but a little further away – may be to ensure that the playful sub adults do not disturb the other mothers to-be of the pride!
We decided to drive to the main Masai Mara reserve next day after hearing that a pride of lions had killed yet another hippo in a span of 2-3 days. On the way, we met a lioness who had recently given birth and was looking very alert.
We reached the spot of the kill quickly and were greeted by a most terrible stench. And an even more unusual sight….
There was a small pool in which the hippo carcass lay. On the left side of the pool, on dry ground of course, was a lioness munching on hippo meat but sitting inside the belly of the hippo was a pack of hyenas laughing, screaming and fighting as they gorged on the meat. We learnt that hippo meat is akin to pork, in taste. So, not only was there a huge availability, it was tasty as well.
There was one cheeky hyena right in front of the lioness too, trying to snatch her share. Soon, her brother came to help his sister who was having a tough time warding off the dauntless hyenas. In fact, one of them got a mighty slap from the bro and was flung a few feet away!! The series of photos below may just about give you an idea of the commotion that was happening there.
Never had I witnessed lions and hyenas eating together. Our guide guessed that the hippo was probably severely injured by the lions and came to the pool to take refuge as cats hate to get wet. Here, she may have succumbed to his/her injuries and then the hyenas took over. There were a few lions hidden in the tall grass but the hyenas outnumbered them. They were everywhere – INSIDE the hippo, ON the hippo, AROUND the hippo, IN the water, on the banks, in the grass and far away, waiting for their turns.
In the middle of all this gore, the keen birdwatcher in me saw a very pretty sight. A little Malachite kingfisher perched on the blade of a grass waiting to get lucky as well. The size perspective was quite interesting!!
We left this site of gore to look for more pleasant things and were rewarded with a beautiful sighting of another majestic lion Lipstick. If you observe his lips, you will know why he has been named so. He was enjoying the morning sun and seemed in no hurry to go anywhere.
He proved to be the perfect model but after a while got terribly bored with the humans and disappeared into the bushes after marking his territory !
We went back to the hippo feasting site to see what else was happening there and found it almost deserted. Only one lion was semi-dozing in the bush some distance away and all that remained of the hippo was this.
Later, our guide took us to the spot where the first hippo was killed a couple of days ago and this is what was left there!! Only his skull, which was too hard even for the hyenas to crack. An elephant calf had died of natural causes a few days back, providing an easy meal for the lions but that site was clear too.
Much as we hated to watch the blood and gore, this was food for the lions. Anyone who has watched a lion (or any carnivore) hunt knows how difficult it is for them to get a meal. How hard they have to work. And that there are more failed hunts than successful ones. And when the cats give birth, the task becomes doubly difficult. Not only do they have to hunt to keep themselves alive and healthy to produce milk for the cubs, they also have to hide the cubs safely to save them from other predators. When the cubs are weaned off milk, they are still too playful and take a long time to learn to hunt. Then the mother has to hunt to provide enough food for herself and her cubs. Many a time, the playfulness of the cubs spoil the carefully laid out plans of the mother. I have myself seen this a few times.
For the herbivores, food is easy as grass and leaves are everywhere. And then there is amazing collusion among the “hunted” to warn the others of the presence of predators. The baboons, the collective network of the ungulates and the drone system of birds like hamerkops and rollers (whose eggs are food for predators like leopards).
Territorial battle is a more serious concern for these young males
It is a very very hard and tough life for the cats. Just because we buy our meat from sanitized environments, we cannot pretend to be “holier than thou” and ignore the equally (or probably more) gory circumstances which bring these juicy burgers, steaks, kebabs and tandoori chicken to our table.
A friend of mine was recently pondering whether she should have saved a skink from the jaws of death of a snake instead of clicking an “award winning” picture. But we all agreed that we should let nature take its course and not interfere. It is after all the snake’s meal. Who are we to snatch it?
However, I would save a cheetah cub by raising hell if I saw a hyena attack it. Cheetahs are endangered species and they are not exactly a hyena’s meal. They just kill them to reduce the competition. But to be honest, it’s also because they are frightfully cute!
But maybe one should not do that either as that is also an interference into the natural order of the survival of the fittest….or maybe not?