Death in Kruger

2011-10-28 00:00

WITNESSING a lion kill in the Kruger National Park on a recent visit is a privilege my family will never forget.

There was a slightly surreal feeling about the whole experience — as if we were seated watching a Nat Geo Wild television drama unfold.

Awesome is the only way to describe this heart-thumping experience, which was both sad and thrilling at the same time.

I choked back my tears as the stricken prey — a blue wildebeest — fought back bravely but was overcome by a pride of 20 lionesses and half-grown cubs.

The fate of the animal was never in question from the moment the first lioness erupted without warning from a thicket and confronted the wildebeest as it slipped and struggled to get out of the waterhole into which it had accidentally fallen just moments before.

The completely unexpected events unfolded at about 9.30 am on September 30 this year as we sat relaxing in our vehicle at the Gudzani waterhole (in the Satara area not far from the famous S100 “lion road”).

The scene was tranquil and predators were not on our mind at that moment. I was taking photographs of a giraffe as it bent gracefully to drink, a herd of zebra milled around and the wildebeest approached in a line also to quench their thirst, alert as always to possible danger.

We sensed none.

The summer rains were still being awaited and there were large concentrations of game to be found around the existing waterholes.

Out of the blue the peaceful scenario changed, a chance slip deciding the fate of the hapless wildebeest.

As the wildebeest jostled one another for a position at the water, one slipped and fell in, creating panic, and causing the rest of the herd to stampede.

We watched with bated breath as the stricken animal struggled to its feet and desperately tried to get out of the water and follow its fleeing companions but its hooves slipping helplessly on the wet,concrete sides.

We were willing it to succeed, when a lioness came racing onto the scene.

To our amazement the big cat was followed by a steady stream of hitherto unseen lions emerging from the surrounding bush, their murderous intentions never in any doubt.

Mercifully death came quickly as several of the lionesses tackled and overpowered the wildebeest in the water.

The aftermath of the kill enthralled us for the next three-and-a-half hours.

The pride first endulged in a congratulatory grooming session before turning to the difficult task of dragging the carcass from the water. Some of the cubs even ran off to play while the adults set about doing the work.

The eventual gory feast was accompanied by much growling and squabbling which intensified as the carcass was consumed down to skin and bone.

Then, as vultures started to gather, we suddenly became aware of the trumpeting of an elephant herd, clearly angered by the presence of the lions at the waterhole.

A young bull elephant came charging at the lions, trunk aloft and great ears flapping with rage, causing the big cats to scatter and flee for cover.

Although the elephant clearly had the upper hand momentarily, the bull did not stay and quickly moved off to drink from the nearby concrete resevoir.

Shortly thereafter an elephant herd with babies passed by, trumpeting their disapproval, but they too did not linger, and left the cats to finish their meal.

My husband, Andrew Harrison, and I have been regular visitors to the park since our marriage a little more than 27 years ago and our children, Ruari (18) and Kristen (11) have developed a deep love of the park and all things wild.

Over the years there have been many special moments, but this experience will surely remain forever etched in our memories as the most incredible of all.

Watch the raw video:

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