Nine Lions & A Snack (Okavango Delta, Botswana)
MY SOUL'S BEEN STIRRED…vigorously. The credit goes to nine members of Panthera leo. On the second evening in the Okavango Delta, our gamble on a discounted off-season visit paid off…Big time, high-five! On the verge of sunset tea in safari bourgeoisie fashion, the radio squawked. Lions. Fresh kill. Our guide asked if we should have tea first. My response? “Fuck the tea and crumpets! Let’s haul ass!” Not quite how I put it, but he got the gist.
The sun had just set and there’d been a murder—a ghastly murder of an innocent. A fledgling zebra (i.e. toddler…awwwwwww) cut down savagely in its childhood. In Lion Land, the women often do the heavy lifting when it comes to hunting. This was no exception. Three lionesses had been feeding themselves and their cubs when Daddy Big Balls asserted his patriarchal authority.
Cue the homines sapientes. Another vehicle, using its headlights, focused on the rustler. The ladies and their brood (five in total) were close by looking dejected as the bossman enjoyed the fruits of their labor. Gimme a “B” for bastard? One lioness still had a bloody chin. We pulled up to the male for a front-row seat and watched in awe as one cantankerous kitty slowly devoured a baby zebra from the ass end.
Mesmerizing. Simply mesmerizing.
Equally intriguing was the soap opera that played out. Every so often, one or more of the youngsters would edge closer in hopes daddy would stop being a gluttonous hog and spread the wealth. He was having none of it, articulating his lack of beneficence with menacing “fuck off” growls. This, unfortunately for the kids, is the natural order in lion culture. Shit rolls downhill and not sharing is not caring.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, our 4WD was roofless, open and exposed. Normally, I’m fairly composed in the presence of wildlife, but I have to admit there’s something unsettling about a hungry lioness massaging her tushy against the rear of your vehicle, where I was sitting. I leaned over to have a look and was no more than two feet away from pretty kitty. I could hear her breath. Nothing will make your heart rate spike like the whisper of “Don’t move” from your guide. Having Mrs. Lioness look you directly in the eye will do nothing to soothe your anxiety. I (colorful expletive) loved it!
Theoretically, as long as you stay calm, make no sudden movements, and stay seated, everything is hunky dory. Do something stupid like stand up and you’re no longer a part of the solid mass. You are singular, distinct, and could be perceived as a threat. Not a good position with lion cubs milling about. Stories were passed around later about an instance where an unfortunate soul stood up in a similar vehicle near a leopard. A vicious attack ensued, one that left the occupants alive but severely injured. No one wants to be that asshole.
At the start, there were two other vehicles alongside ours, but we had Simba and the gang to ourselves thirty minutes later. This astonished me. You fly thousands of miles, spend thousands of dollars, and when you encounter one of nature’s most enthralling dramas, you do what? Go back to camp for dinner and a snooze. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!
Who are these people? You couldn’t tear us away. We had our own vehicle and ringside seats. We weren’t moving for dick! I had to see the conclusion.
(Insert dramatic voice-over here) How would the story end? Would daddy’s heart soften prompting him to relinquish a scrap or two to feed his hungry family, or would he go on being a miserable prick? If you chose answer “b) miserable prick”, you just won a free zebra throw rug!
A fellow guest at Kwara Camp in the adjacent vehicle did not share our enthusiasm. In fact, the cats terrified him so much he asked his driver to back off. We learned this when an American named Fred asked to hop into our vehicle after his party (including Mr. Shit My Pants) called it a night. We were more than happy to oblige as we sensed his level of fascination was on par with ours.
So we sat. We watched. We waited. Witnessing an adult male lion devour a juvenile zebra in its entirety is not an easy thing to describe. I can still hear the bones crunching, see the zebra’s vacant, open-eyed glare. Incredible. Just plain incredible.
Our perseverance was rewarded, again and again. For reasons known only to them, the females began ululating plaintively into the ether. Was this their version of mournful country twang?
“♫ Daddy won’t share. The homos don’t care. Ladies of the night gonna cry out in despair. Payin’ our dues with the Okavango bluuuues… ♫
Imagine the guttural, quasi-howl of three lionesses bellowing in unison. We cut the lights and listened in the dark. Oh, the bitterness. That’s enough to captivate any mortal…or immortal for that matter. Absolutely magnificent. It just makes you feel so goddamned lucky to be alive. How many moments do we get?
The finale (at least as far as we were concerned) came when Grumpo dispatched with the zebra’s noggin. Ever watch a lion lap up zebra brain? Try it. When all that remained was a bloody patch of grass, we fired up the 4WD and skedaddled. Our guides, Kenny and Mopani, were antsy and tired. Although late-night game drives are common, we’d been there for three hours and didn’t arrive at camp until after 1:00 am. Even the ride back was adrenalizing. We heard elephants crashing through the forest and saw another lion pride on the prowl for din-din. I didn’t have the heart to request we stop. No need to be greedy I suppose. Still, I had zero desire to sleep. I wanted to suck the zebra brain out of life…Damn it!