Earlier this week I was invited to explore a wilderness area close to home: Pridelands Conservancy with the Painteddog.tv crew. With a name to make any Lion King lover proud, this conservancy forms part of the Greater Kruger area, and is located right outside my hometown. When I say right outside, it means less than 10 from my doorstep, to the reserve’s main gate. To believe wildlife roams wild and free so close to this “town” with supermarkets, electric gates a clicky society is really a mind-blowing fact.
“Ale, Ale, Ale. What are you doing at 4 o’clock?”
“Wanna go look for lions?”
In true South African fashion, a last minute plan was made. Beanies, scarves, gloves and jackets were packed in the car by 4pm and the search for lions started.
“They looked hungry this morning when we saw them, we’re just going to go follow up see what they’re up to”.
Lockdown and being forced indoor and in the same place for 6 months has really gotten to my mental health, any opportunity to head and about into wilderness is always yes. Even if lions weren’t involved my answer would have been exactly the same. We bumbled towards the area where the lions were last seen while chatting about nothing and everything in between. This is the true beauty of enjoying the journey, letting nature put a blanket around your spirit while you let things out into the wind. We came to a stop to look for a water bottle when all of a sudden the chaos of deep whoops and angry hyena calls pierced the air. In the fraction of a second that took to locate where the noises where coming from, a deeper growl was heard.
“Lions fighting hyenas, lions fighting hyenas!”
If you have ever met Brent, you know that he is not able to contain excitement. You will also know that no sooner had he finished the sentence, that the tiny little Suzuki car aptly named the badger, went bundu bashing through long grass, fallen over trees and aardvark holes in a quest to locate where the fight was taking place.
“There, there, there!” (For some reason, it seems impossible for safari guides to announce or point to things only once when the adrenaline is rushing).
The scene was unfolding through the woodland. Hyenas and lionesses were dancing a tango around the trees and shrubs, always careful not to get too close to one another. The tension in the air was palpable. The three hyenas would stand their ground until the aggressive approaches of the lions would push them a few steps back. A false step on the hyenas behalf and the lions would have the upper hand and send them chasing. The world stopped only to pay attention to the growls and calls taking place.
A group of three hyenas, salivating and looking as ferocious as possible were facing a pride of 5 lionesses. The hyenas’ call were matched every time by the deep growls coming from the lions. Our first assumption was that the fight had been over a potential kill. Earlier that day Brent had seen the lionesses and they seemed to be interested in hunting and finding their next meal. When the lions and hyenas came into the open, the lack of blood on their coats immediately stood out. Had there been a carcass and fight over the war spoils, some of the animals would be wearing it on their fur.
“I think the hyenas are trying to lead the lioness away from the den. It’s not too far from here”.
“Ahhh, that makes sense now”
Hyenas and lions are indeed eternal enemies. The pressures they exercise on each other is remarkable. Although they do not tolerate each other’s presence as they are in direct competition for food, resources and safe places to raise their young not all encounters are as ferocious as the one witnessed. There was a lot at stake – the future of the hyena clan! – and so devised a plan that would get the lions attention as they sneakily lead them away from the den and protected their young ones. Those non-believers that think hyenas are dumb have never dealt with them first hand, if there is something they are, is intelligent.
About a kilometer down from where they first bumped into this unfolding scene, the tension started to dissipate and the spirits started to calm down as the distance between the two predators became greater. The hyenas, heavily salivating due to their adrenaline rush during the encounter (it takes quite something to stand your ground to charging lions), started retreating and the lionesses one by one started giving up on their chase and laying down in the long grass.
By nightfall the chaos sparked again as the hyenas kept offering themselves as bait to lead the lionesses away. The encounter however wasn’t as vicious as when we first bumped into them all and we left with a grin on our faces have witnessed nature at one of it’s most powerful moments.
If you want to plan a safari next year and experience the African wilderness you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more