Our group was departing on a 4 night 5 day wilderness trail into the heart of the Imfolozi Game Reserve. Such a trail is a deeply humbling experience and offers a unique connection with nature and her wildlife. The purpose of this trip is not to get as close to Africa’s Big five on foot, or any animal for that matter, but rather to respect the environment, become a part of it and leave no trace. We are the guests and the wilderness, our host.
A few hours into the first day of the trail our guide put his arm out to signal for to us to stop. We were heading in the direction of a large male lion resting under a tree. This meant that the rest of the pride was possibly nearby, and both our guides began scanning the horizon while calculating our next move.
Often when one thinks of ‘safari’, Africa’s largest cat species comes to mind. A majestic and formidable predator that can be found in wildlife reserves across sub Saharan Africa. Lions exhibit highly social behaviour and pride numbers can range from anything between 10 to 40 individuals. These prides are predominantly made up of females, cubs and 1 or 2 adult males.
Having spotted the male from quite a distance we were given a moment to observe the ‘king of the jungle’. What looked like a boulder was in fact his raised head and we could make out his distinctive mane through the trees. After allowing our eyes to focus and adjust the size of the animal became apparent. Despite lying down, he was the height of an average-sized impala and camouflaged in the grass where he lay.
At around 15 months the younger males in the pride are ‘expelled’ and go on to form coalitions. Occasionally they will attempt to take over a new pride by challenging the resident male. If this is achieved, their next step of asserting authority may be to kill the cubs in the pride so that they can mate with the females and carry on their lineage. Not willing to put us or the lion at risk, our guides had devised a new route that would disguise our scent from the carrying winds, travelling parallel from the lion but a couple hundred feet away.
While we were walking, we were disturbed by a herd of impala fleeing in the far distance. They came and went. Then suddenly, ahead of us about five lionesses leapt from under a tree in the direction of the fleeing impala who were now out of sight. We came to a deathly halt. It had all happened so fast. Had it not been for the impala, we were headed right in the direction of these athletic hunters!
Recognized by their yellow-gold coats, lions become almost invisible when laying low in grasslands, which is a powerful tool when on the hunt. The females are the primary hunters and they will often hunt in a team as their success rate is higher. These predators can take down anything from a medium-sized impala to a 500kg buffalo – a sobering display of their sheer strength!
A few in our group did not see the debacle that had just unfolded, which showed how quick it had all happened. While there is no time to mull over things while on the trail, as you need to be aware and alert in every moment, we did discuss the day’s events around the fire that evening.
For those who have not been on safari before, your guide and tracker are able to locate prides of lions by examining their tracks in the ground. An example of the process can be seen in this brilliant youtube clip with Steve Faulconbridge. Steve is an expert safari guide who was explaining the art of tracking lions while streaming to a live audience on the well-known online platform ‘SafariLive’. His tracking skills were so good in fact that they led him straight into a pride of lions! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7L6ojntIJk
We never had any other lion sightings over the following days, which made our brief encounters even more special. We did however have the privilege of listening to the distant roar of a lion while we slept under the stars in the reserve.
The trail offers a safe and respectful approach to walking in the wild and provides valuable insight into the rhythm of nature. It also helps ease any fears you may have with being on foot in a Big Five game reserve. Led by expert guides this is a trip that will stay with you for the rest of your life. If you are interested in our 4 night 5 day Wilderness trail then pop over to the tour page.
African lion. Nationalgeographic.com. National Geographic Partners, LLC, 2020. Web. 8 October 2020.
Lions, Kruger Park Wildlife. Krugerpark.co.za. Siyabona Africa (Pty) Ltd, 2020. Web. 8 October 2020.