In the Land of Lions (Parental Discretion Advised)

Shamwari currently has ten lions within its borders. They are divided between the Southern and Northern prides. We were lucky enough that during our time there, we were able to see all ten of the lions.  As Headman told us the ongoing saga of the lions, I thought, this is much more dramatic than Disney’s The Lion King. The story boasts betrayals, revenge, romance, love, and terror.  Let me tell you a little bit about how the tale unfolded for us.

The first two lions that we saw in Shamwari were a male and female.  The male lion, is six years old and is the big boy of Shamwari. He is fit, tough, and the epitome of what a male lion in his prime should be.  The female lion already is the mother of three female cubs in Shamwari (who are all about a year and a half in age).  The male lion and female lion (let’s call her Mariammo) were spending some quality time together, because he thought she was ready to be impregnated again.  The three young females that she had previously birthed were not fathered by this male lion (lets call him Simba), and he was ready for some offspring of his own.

When we first saw these two, he was following her around.  She, however, was more interested in looking for something to eat than in his advances.

In fact, she was really on the hunt for some food.  In a flash, she took off after an errant warthog who stumbled into the path of the lions.  Mariammo caught up to the warthog and took a swipe at him with her massive paw.  Unfortunately, at that moment, an enormous hippo emerged from behind a grove of trees and ran directly in between the lion and the warthog.  The hippo was just the distraction that the warthog needed to escape into heavy brush.  Mariammo was not particularly pleased that the warthog got away.  I was not particularly pleased that the encounter happened so quickly, and my heart was beating so rapidly, that I wasn’t able to get a single picture of this incredible chase as it unfolded. I did, however, get a few shots of the disappointed lioness after the warthog got away.  She halfheartedly growled at us, partially faulting our presence for her foregone meal.

The male lion didn’t seem to mind too much, and just continued to follow his lady through the brush, just wanting to be near her.

The next day, we saw these two again, continuing to spend some quality time together. It was on this day that we were able to get some better pictures of the pair as they seemed altogether more relaxed.

As we watched them relax, Headman told us about how Simba became the dominant male in all of Shamwari.  When Simba was a young male, a new male lion was introduced to Shamwari. Simba was born to a lioness in the Northern pride.  He had a good early life, until the new male (let’s call him Scar) was introduced.  When Scar attached himself to the Northern Pride, Simba had to flee to the South, because as a young male who wasn’t his son, Simba was a threat to Scar’s supremacy.  Simba spent the rest of his young adulthood in the South, wandering alone, but forging a few ties with the Southern pride.  He was unable to see his mother.  Then, one day, Simba felt like he was strong enough, and he began to roar, indicating that he was now claiming territory as his own.  Scar didn’t like this, of course, and immediately began to roar too, asserting his own authority.  The two males were headed for a major confrontation. Sure enough, it happened. A few months ago, Headman witnessed the final battle between Simba and Scar. He heard the lions roaring, and then raced to find them.  Simba, now a strong six-year-old, confronted Scar, an aged, nearly fourteen year old lion. The confrontation was bloody and decisive. Simba emerged the victor by killing Scar. 

However, in the several years that Simba had been absent from the North, Simba’s mom (let’s call her Graca), had given birth to another young male, as well as two female lionesses. Scar was the father of these young ones.  Graca knew that now that Scar was dead, her new cubs had no protection from Simba.  The female lionesses wouldn’t be harmed by Simba, but Simba probably would kill her 2-year-old son (lets call him Thabo), who is Simba’s half-brother.  Thabo, from a different father would be seen as a threat to Simba. So this means that the Northern pride, consisting of Graca, Thabo, and his two sisters, were constantly on the move trying to evade Simba. Simba has taken many trips to the North, to try to see his mother again.  She hides from him, and Thabo and the other lions do not roar, trying to stay away from Simba.  Of course, at some point in time, Thabo will be a full adult, perhaps when he is four or older. At that time, there could be another confrontation, or perhaps not.  No one knows what will happen in this ongoing family saga.

While we were in Shamwari, the northern pride could feel safe, as Simba was occupied with attending to Mariammo.  So, imagine our excitement when one day we were able to see the Northern Pride relaxing in the sun (at a safe far distance away from Simba, of course).

Graca stood up and moved away from the other three when we arrived. She kept a safe watch from a concealed location, able to pounce from her undetected position should anyone threaten her adolescent cubs.

Graca’s two daughters rested in the grass. They obviously were well fed.

Thabo seemed curious and restless. His age and immaturity were revealed by his mane, not yet fully grown. Nonetheless, his tremendous, adolescent statute indicated that Thabo would indeed be a powerful, tough adult lion.  He would be a powerful force in Shamwari’s north.

The night we observed the cheetah hunt, we came upon Mariammo and Simba again lounging in the grass, with the backdrop of a beautiful African sunset.

It was difficult for me to figure out the settings of my camera so that I could capture the light of the beautiful sunset and the lions in the grass at the same time. Just take my word for it when I say the setting was incredibly lovely. Apparently, the lions found it quite romantic too.  The next thing I know, we witnessed Simba on top of Mariammo, for a loud, but quick attempt at making some baby Simbas.

How quick was it? Well, after a few grunts and a couple of thrusts, he was done.  I don’t think it got the job done.  I don’t blame the poor guy, who clearly isn’t an exhibitionist and doesn’t enjoy performing for an audience of American and Northern Irish tourists, who are sitting in a truck ten meters away making jokes about his performance.  When he was done, Mariammo rolled over in the grass, and the two just settled in to enjoy the sunset together.

He probably was thinking, I will wait until we can have a more private moment later, after the sun goes down.

Alright, so what about the other four lions that I haven’t yet accounted for in this story?  Well, Headman explained that while Mariammo and Simba were off taking care of business, the other four lions in the Southern Pride mostly would try to keep a distance.  The other four lions in the Southern Pride are Mariammo’s mother (Agnes), and Mariammo’s three female cubs, all about two years in age.  We stumbled upon them in a truly glorious way:

 

We didn’t see them chase the warthog, but we saw them before they had succeeded in fully killing the warthog.  For the first several minutes, Agnes held a tight grip of the warthog’s neck, suffocating him. The warthog was still alive, as his front legs flailed about. Agnes’s granddaughters had already ripped into his lower body, impatient for their grandmother to get the job done. When Agnes was assured of the warthog’s death, she began ripping apart his upper body to eat.

 

It was a fitting final encounter with the lions of Shamwari.

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