Renowned zoologist Fritz Eloff’s Hunters of the Dunes – The story of the Kalahari lion is best described as a remarkable man’s remarkable love for the Kalahari and its lions. For 40 years Fritz dedicated his life and studies to these impressive big cats, culminating in an unforgettable series of adventures. Originally published in Afrikaans as Jagters van die duine, the new English edition is just as incredible and Wild is giving away three copies!
In Hunters of the Dunes – The story of the Kalahari lion, Fritz describes the behaviour of the lions he studied in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. His descriptions of their social interaction, hunting strategies, feeding habits, courtship and mating, and land use make for engrossing reading.
How much do you know about Kalahari lions? We share some fascinating facts from the book about the legendary and unpredictable predators of the red dunes.
A different look
Did you know that Kalahari lions are characterised by their long legs and lean bodies? These big cats also tend to be lighter in colour than other lions found in Africa. Although males are generally a little bit darker than females, their manes vary from golden yellow to almost pitch black. The biggest lion Fritz encountered during his research was called Swartmaanhaar – his total length (body and tail) was 290,5cm. But, wrote Fritz: “It was not the length but height that counted if a lion wanted to make an impression in a pride.”
Conducting research on the unique Kalahari lion was easier said than done. Fritz’s research was heavily dependent on the knowledge and experience of Bushmen trackers. Their insights into Kalahari lions are fascinating: “The imprint of a lion’s body on the side of a bush or underneath it reveals the time of day he/she rested here… From the tracks one can also tell whether lions were playing or hunting… If you want to know if the male or the female walked in front, and which lion was last in line, the trackers can tell you that too.”
On the move
For most the Kalahari means desert, but this diverse landscape boasts salt pans, dune valleys, savannas, grasslands and veld. Fritz wrote: “Within the space of a single night, a lion can move from one environment to a totally different one some 50 kilometres away… No two days in a lion’s life are the same, yet there is a routine to their daily activities.” During summer months and soaring sand temperatures, lions find it almost impossible to move about during the day.
Next time you are in the Kgalagadi, see if you can spot this fascinating interaction between Kalahari lions. Lions have special forms of greeting – almost like us humans shaking hands to make acquaintance. According to Fritz, when two females from the same pride meet, they rub heads together. “When a female re-joins the pride after a reasonably long absence, this head rubbing can last for several minutes. This type of greeting and expression of affection probably also strengthens the social bonds between lions.”
During his research Fritz found that Kalahari lions rest on average once every kilometre while walking. “This is a contagious group activity. While the pride walks along in a leisurely manner, with members sometimes quite far apart from one another, one of them – not necessarily the leader – may suddenly flop down to the sand. The others usually follow suit, sometimes together, sometimes in a long line along the route that they were following.”
Did you know?
- The mortality of lion cubs in the southern Kalahari is higher than anywhere else in Africa.
- Lions can communicate with each other over a distance of some 19 kilometres or more.
How to win
Wild and Protea Book House are giving away three copies of Hunters of the Dunes. Email the answer to our simple question before 20 November to [email protected] (subject line: Kalahari lions). Remember to include your full names, postal address and contact details. Wild will randomly select the winners and winners will be notified via email.
Question: What’s the name of the biggest Kalahari lion Fritz encountered during his research?
Winners: Arlene Dredge, Mohamed Hayat and Daoud Amojee
Hunters of the Dunes. Fritz Eloff. 2016. Protea. R295.
Source: Hunters of the Dunes – The story of the Kalahari lion