South Africa: When night falls, lions are kings

By Catherine Masters

Lions in Sabi Sabi game park. Photo / Mark Street
Lions in Sabi Sabi game park. Photo / Mark Street

It was the impalas I felt sorriest for. Poor little buggers.

They're so pretty up close, such a sweet little deer with lovely shiny fur which always seems to look freshly washed and brushed.

But they're so skittish, always looking over their shoulders.

You should see them in the dark after lionesses have been chasing them.

Nervous. Jumpy. Terrified.

We saw lionesses first during the day at the Sabi Sabi Game Reserve.

A pride of 11 casually wandered right past the truck, so flamin' close, sauntering along one by one, with not a care in the world.

It was early in the morning and still cool and the lions looked alert, as if they might be willing to give chase to something.

Sometimes they'd look you straight in the eyes on their way by. "Lunch" you could imagine them thinking.

Even as we watched on in admiration, the heat of the day turned up so quickly hunting was soon forgotten.

The lions could no longer be bothered, so groomed each other a bit and sprawled out to sleep the day away.

At night, oh boy, it's a different story.

We came across another group of lionesses on the evening safari.

A shiver goes up your spine when you see lions by night.

Our fearless African tracker, Max, perched on a seat at the front of the jeep, spotlighted in the dark.

Their body language at night is totally different.

Three lionesses, all rippling muscle, walked single-file right past us again, treading ever so lightly and determinedly on their great big paws, followed by the cutest little cub gambolling to keep up.

These lions stared straight ahead. These lions didn't waver.

They were after impala.

They headed to a field where the little blighters were gathered together just trying to get through the night.

The lions split up immediately and we lost sight of them in the dark.

So we just sat there waiting for the bloodcurdling roars and cries of distress.

Which never came ... the lions missed their target.

Impala might be skittish but they're fast.

When we drove on to see if we could find the lions again we found instead three little impala who had been separated from the group.

Clearly, they'd had a lucky escape. Clearly, they were scared as all hell.

We soon came across the rest of the group, jumpier than ever, and then the lions again. They were heading the wrong way but still in single file, still with the same determination.

They weren't giving up. We had to leave them to it but you could almost smell it in the breeze - something was going to get eaten that night, under the African sky.

- NZ Herald

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