Who Pawed in the Bush?

Dear Traveller,


Looking at theses prints there are few things that you can tell about the animal that made them. The animal has four clearly distinct toes which point in the direction the animals heading which makes it easier to tell the orientation of the animal unlike other animals such as rhinos or elephants. This animal also has claws which are extended (referring to the pointed nature of the toes) this could be due to the softness of the ground rather than the claws being constantly extended which means the animal could be still part of the cat family. You can tell how recent the track is by how much weathering there has been around it i.e crusting.

As we follow the prints feeling more and more like African Sherlock’s we come across two female African lions making a snack out of an impala’s leg. They seem completely at ease at the side of the road, only moving their ears slightly at the sound of the approaching vehicle.


The vehicle comes to a stop and we stare at these incredible predators resembling now more than ever a domestic cat (I mean, look at that lion loaf). We notice that there are  a more lions in the surrounding bush, relaxing in the cover of the tall grass.

However, a young male slowly approaches the females wanting to grab a bite of the impala. Moving ever so carefully the male inches closer to the females. The females begin to get agitated but the male continues to approach. With a sudden roar the female delivers her annoyance with blow to the face of the male ensuring the male stopped his pursuit.

African lions fighting over a fresh kill

Social hierarchy:

Prides will occupy a home range which size is controlled by resources available such as prey.Normally the pride will be scattered in groups of 3-5 around the home range. These groups are normally made up of females and cubs with one dominant male, as adult males tend to be nomadic. The social structure of the pride also affects the eating order: The dominant male will eat first, next the females who are typically the hunters (males are capable hunters but tend not to) will then eat. Next the subordinate adults and finally the cubs. This is the reason why the females reacted in such a way to the males approach.

The White Lion

Not to be confused with an albino lion, the white lion is the result of the exploitation of a recessive gene that is linked to the mutation that causes albinism. As a result the lions have a white coat with either blue or green eyes. The White lion is still considered to be the same species as the tawny lion. You will see a lot more of the white lion in captivity versus in the wild because they are selectively breed for due to their attractiveness.

Wide Eyed White Lion
Male white lion, Image by Mark Dumont

Lion in the wild vs lion a park:

Traveller, you may have heard the story on the news about a woman being mauled by a lion in Park near Johannesburg. You also might remember the important detail that was the reason why the lady was attacked was because she had her car window open. You probably feel rather nervous about being in an open vehicle right about now. The difference between those types of parks and reserves such as the Pilanesberg, is that the parks are more like a glorified zoos with the animals being feed from the back of a truck instead of hunting their own prey. This is probably due to the much smaller facilities available as well as it enables the park to capitalize on “feeding times”. Due to being feed from the vehicle the animals may begin to associate approaching vehicles with food. This may give you an indication of why the animal behaved in this way and why these animals in front of us are completely unperturbed by our vehicle.

Cub cuddling:

Another feature of these animal parks is the opportunity to cuddle young dangerous animals. For as little as R60.00 which converts to about $5.00 USD you get the opportunity of stepping in the cage with the child form of lions, cheetahs and leopards etc. Through repeated public exposure these cubs become domesticated and are often moved to farms once they become to big to be pet by tourists. This underlies the industry of “canned hunting” given this name by the fact that these animals are sold to and killed by trophy hunters within a cage where the animal is unable to escape. These  facilities often act under the guise of conservation, using the argument that allowing for captive lions to be hunted removes the pressure from wildlife parks. Research has found that beyond the ethical arguments around the practice that these industries divert lion conservation measures as well as inflate the market for lion bone throughout Africa. I think what it comes down to is whether we want to domesticate these animals or to be able to observe them and appreciate them within their natural environments. This is an ongoing controversy and I would be interested to see your point of view.

The scene in front of us has progressed. Agitated at the young male’s persistence the older females make a break with the impala’s leg and the triumphant male is left with the scraps


Young male lion

Leaving behind these fearsome beasts we journey forward.

The road has become muddy and uneven due to the summer rains. We carefully trudge onward but the road is getting worse. We attempt to turn the vehicle around but –

Oh no we are stuck!


What to do when you are stuck in the mud, surrounded by wild animals?

All will be revealed on Friday! 

Relive the journey: The Journey Begins


*all images and gifs are owned by Samantha Smyrke unless otherwise stated
All additional images are under a creative commons license
Feature image by Mark Dumont

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Roger Allsopp's says:

    Great facts, well written!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s