Lion vs donkey
When a lioness encountered a stray donkey in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park [now the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park], it got a lot more than it bargained for. This article by Clem Haagner originally appeared in Custos magazine vol 11 no 7 (October 1982) as "Never turn your back on a lion". The full set of Custos magazines has been collected onto DVD by the Honorary Rangers.
Just after sunrise one morning, I witnessed a most unusual and exciting drama, but because one of the characters in the drama was a donkey, and virtually defenceless, one was filled with a sense of horror. Let me fill you in on the background so you can understand how it all came about.
The western portion of the Kalahari Gemsbok Park across the Nossob River, which forms the international boundary between Botswana and South Africa, is a vast tract of land without roads, and although it is a reserve, it is impossible to patrol regularly and effectively. The Botswanas living on the borders of the reserve make regular incursions to hunt animals which they cure as biltong for themselves or which they sell. They use pack donkeys for their transport. Occasionally a donkey strays or gets lost during a hunting expedition and as it is a very hardy animal, usually remains alive for a long time, even without water, until it finally falls prey to a predator.
I had spent the previous night at Gemsbokplein on the Auob River trying to get sound recordings of Cape foxes which had a den nearby. The Cape foxes were uncooperative so I packed up early to return to Twee Rivieren. The first thing I saw when I got down into the Auob riverbed was a donkey standing immediately to the north of a large trassiebos (Acacia hebeclada). The thought struck me that this donkey had wandered a long way from whichever direction it had come.
As I passed the trassiebos, I noticed puffs of dust being kicked up from the riverbed. It took me a few moments to realise that it was a large lioness running up the riverbed towards the donkey, hidden from it on the opposite side of the trassiebos. I immediately reversed my vehicle to where the donkey was standing and waited for the lioness to appear from behind the bush some 20 metres from the donkey. A “sitting duck” I thought, but this was not to be. The wind was blowing from the direction of the lioness and as the donkey picked up the scent, it swung around to face the bush. Instead of charging from behind the bush as I had expected, the lioness cautiously emerged and stood staring at the donkey.
I had my camera ready for the pounce, which didn’t materialise. It would seem reasonable to suppose that the lioness had never seen a donkey before and did not quite know what to make of it. Maybe the donkey was a dangerous animal.
The two animals stood looking at each other and then I recalled a day years ago when the late Stoffel le Riche, one-time warden of the Gemsbok Park, and I were gathering firewood in the last rays of the setting sun. Suddenly he shouted to me to stand still, and pointed to a lioness stalking us not 40 metres away. How he saw it against the light I don’t know, but he shouted to me to remain still and not run for the truck some 15 metres away. As we stood staring at the lioness, it stood up and stared at us for some moments before turning around and walking slowly away, as if to say “I am leaving because I want to, and not running away from you.”
Stoffel then told me that if we had made a run for the truck, the lioness would most probably have got one of us. The fact that we had stood our ground had saved the day. Lions are used to catching fleeing prey or prey unaware of the carnivore’s approach. “In fact,” said Stoffel, “a lion won’t even attack an animal that stands its ground facing the lion.”
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