A few days in the life of a pride of lions


I am useless at spotting animals in the bush. They have to cross the road in front of me or be surrounded by safari vehicles for me to find them. I set off at 6am on Tuesday, in the doctor’s vehicle, to find a pride of lions in the locality. I followed one of the lodge guides, James, as he tracked the lions in the Katete River area. The previous evening, he had seen the lions manoeuvring to get a good position to attack a group of 50 buffalo. There were no lions to be seen in that location, so he looked for tracks and worked out the best way to cover the area to find where they had gone.

He eventually found them on a sand island in the middle of the Luangwa River. They were feasting on a baby hippo. There were about a dozen in the pride, with three males. Another group of females had remained in the National Park and were still hunting.

Lioness fending off an unwelcome approach from a lion wanting to mate.
Lioness fending off an unwelcome approach from a lion wanting to mate.
Unhappy hippo. Calling for its baby?
Unhappy hippo. Calling for its baby?

The lions were trapped on the sandbar, with angry hippos and half a dozen crocodiles waiting for them at the river. Several hippos made a foray towards the pride, but were sent scurrying back to the river when the lions responded with a display of aggression. One rather manky-looking male went down to river for a drink but was wary of the crocs and drank from a small pool instead. A brave hippo chased him away.

Later that day, when the baby hippo had been consumed, the largest male went down to the river’s edge and created a diversion with the pod of hippos. The crocodiles were attracted by the commotion, allowing the pride to escape back into the National Park. The male lion stayed on the sandbar for several hours, and the crocs dispersed, have allowed their chance to grab a lion cub to disappear. The male crossed the river in the evening.

Meanwhile, the pride had managed to kill a buffalo and had gorged on its carcass for most of the day. Hyenas cleaned up the remains, and the bones were pecked over by vultures.

Remains of the buffalo with hooded vultures in attendance.
Remains of the buffalo with hooded vultures in attendance.

The pride retreated back towards the river and found some shade. The safari vehicles gathered around the pride like vultures.

Great views
Great views

But the lions were not bothered, and spent the time sleeping after a heavy lunch. They always manage to look so languid.

This morning, I found them myself, north of the Katete River bridge. I managed to get my vehicle into a good position and watched the pride move into the shifting shade, towards my lens. As usual, my view was obscured by tall grass, but I was delighted to see them interacting, even though the pictures were not brilliant. One young lion wandered past her mother, making physical contact. Another spent five minutes licking her mother’s head. The males were nowhere to be seen. Off down the pub before Sunday lunch, probably.

By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.

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