Lions in Amboseli’s marshes

Amboseli is place of diversity and contrast. If you are a landscape photographer there is a vast palette for you to work with. If you are a birder you will “betwitched”. If you enjoy wildlife, the elephants will command your attention. And, at the crepuscular time of the day you have a good chance of seeing cats – from lions to cheetah and servals.

“We go out to find our subjects before the sun rises because we want to catch them in the gorgeous light, and that’s really only allowed for a very short moment, and then, of course, it’s a hot stinking day for the rest of it. Then the time with the most exquisite sunlight is at sunset.” ~ Beverly Joubert

We stayed at Serena Lodge in Amboseli with our hosts, Wild Eye Destinations and Photography. The lodge has an electric fence around its perimeter. As we gathered at 6h00 for a cup of coffee and a rusk on our third morning, we heard the lions roaring close to the lodge and by the sound of it close to the lodge’s perimeter fence. Just as dawn was breaking we found two lion families.

Two lionesses had chosen to keep their cubs inside the electric fence surrounding the camp. How clever was that. They must have known that the electric fence offered protection. They had also worked out that the electric fence had been broken and was not live so the cubs could move in and out of the fence without getting electrocuted.

As these lionesses had worked out that the electric fence had been turned off, the male lions never walked through the electric fence. Another example of the intelligence of wildlife, something we humans are still coming to terms with and fathom.

“Two very large lionesses walked much closer to me than I expected. They rippled with power and predatory presence. Massive shoulders moved under tawny skin ready to grab hold of a passing zebra or buffalo. One lioness looked at me and stopped, her eyes burning with alertness. ~ Dereck Joubert

It was obvious that these females were tired. The cubs were really demanding. The lionesses showed their irritation at the cubs continuing to try to suckle. The continual fighting for a nipple and those razor sharp small teeth must have hurt. The lionesses never snapped. They just rolled over or got up and moved to another position.

Lionesses have a demanding and vital role in the pride. They have to hunt. Capitulate to the males at the kill and have to support and suckle their cubs and their sister’s cubs. They do snarl at the cubs to signal their displeasure at the continued pressure from the cubs to suckle. It is difficult not to empathise how sore it must be to have cubs with sharp albeit small teeth tugging on their raw nipples. For all the ferocity bound up in a lioness it is a wonder they are so gentle and accommodating with their cubs. The cubs when not trying to suckle were very playful.

The two males in the pride had quite different manes. The one less dominant one had a large brownish mane and the other more dominant male had a Mohican style mane like those seen in Tsavo.

The males have little to do with the cubs. At best they seem to tolerate them. The males generally remained some distance from the females and all the cubs.

“A world without the distant roar of lions at dawn as the mists start to lift is too terrible to contemplate.” ~ Dereck Joubert

The grass thickets and palm thickets provide good cover for the lions. Just outside the lodge’s electric fence was an open area with low grass which provide an ideal place for the cubs to play. Despite all their demands, the cubs were very affectionate towards the lionesses.

The cubs seemed to be particularly demanding. I am not sure why. Difficult to tell. We only saw them first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening. It did rain heavily in the early afternoon and occasionally at night. They seemed to be constantly hungry. Yet there was plenty of game around so I am sure the lionesses hunted regularly.

The weather is variable in the long rains. Some days we had good light and others we had diffused overcast light. Other times it was raining. No matter the weather, the males seemed to keep their distance from the family. At one point one of the males showed a little aggression towards one of the cubs and a lioness reacted very aggressively towards the male – enough said!

Statistics on the disappearance of iconic wildlife – “we are losing one rhino every 8.5 hours, five elephants every hour, and five lions a day to poaching, conflict, hunting, and human encroachment.” ~ Dereck Joubert

The males watched the family through the light rain with moderate interest from about 100 metres away. The males remained with the pride for two days before moving off to patrol their territory and we never saw them again.

The wonderful aspect about sightseeing on safari is that you are constantly surprised about what you see. And if you watch quietly for a while the complex interactions will become apparent and the structure of the family will slowly be revealed to you.

“The deep roar of a lion at dawn stirs a primal shiver in us. The dense cool dawn air is a perfect carrier. No matter how far away, your instincts are awakened and an the wildlife holds its breath.” ~ Mike Haworth

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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