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Royals Reign Supreme! (October 23, 2011)

Yesterday was a spectacular day and night with the Royal Pride.

We located them at dawn out on the Marah Plains, all 5 lying together, incredibly playful and affectionate, especially Mandla with his sons. Amazing to see 3 huge males so loving to each other. But the pride was clearly on a mission, with Zihra leading the 5 across the plains mid morning and settling at a good ambush position near the Marah River crossing.

When we returned, just before sunset, Matsieng had detected potential prey and was stalking, as if in slow motion. Zihra soon joined in a flanking position, with Zukhara following soon after. Nebu was holding her position and observing very closely, ready to launch into attack. Mandla was oblivious at this point. Suddenly we heard a warning snort from a wildebeest, and moments later we saw it bolting onto the Marah Plains about 200m ahead of Zihra, running like there was no tomorrow. My first thought was that this opportunity was over for the pride, as they’d lost the element of surprise and the wildebeest was too far away, especially with it being broad daylight. However, Zihra was not convinced.

She tore off after the wildebeest, a huge bull, with only Matsieng following in support. I felt Zihra’s efforts were futile, but nonetheless felt very frustrated that the other pride members were not going to support her. At this moment Nebu committed her support and sprinted after the wildebeest in an attempt to cut him off from the safety of the dense riverine area. Zukhara took his sister’s lead and joined the chase. About 2 minutes later Mandla stood up, looking intently in the direction of the settling dust, with neither the pride nor the wildebeest in sight. He began strolling slowly in their direction, clearly in disbelief that the pride could have been successful with the hunt. After walking for about 750m, he turned towards the riverbed and stood listening very carefully. All of a sudden he started running down into the riverbed, and we lost sight of him. We then heard the distinctive growling sounds characteristic of a pride of lions when feeding – Zihra had been successful, after all!

The riverine vegetation was too dense to approach with the vehicle and we had to drive around to the other side of the steep riverbed. We managed to find a vantage point, and down below us we suddenly saw Zihra and the three youngsters feeding very aggressively. On the far riverbank, Mandla was trying to approach, clearly at a disadvantage, having arrived late. His sons, each as large as him now, were dominating the feeding, and there was physically no space to get in to join them, with the riverbed being so narrow at this particular point. The king wisely decided to hold back for now, to avoid a major conflict erupting with his sons, which could turn nasty. The situation was so aggressive that Nebu backed out after receiving a bite to her paw from one of her brothers. Their mother, Zihra, held her ground, sandwiched between Matsieng and Zukhara, acting as a buffer between them. Nebu licked her paw repeatedly, but from the way she held it and later put pressure on it, there was no significant damage done.

Some 25 minutes later, with her brothers starting to become satiated, Nebu snuck back to feed. There was quite a lot of snarling, but she managed to lodge herself in position.

Then, out of nowhere, like a tornado, Mandla charged in, catching everyone by total surprise, and sending his 4 family members scrambling in all directions up the embankments, to dominate and take the Lion’s share! It was so good to see that Mandla is still King. What an ending to a phenomenal day and night in the life of the Royal Pride.

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