Lions were rolling everywhere in a spectacular battle in the Auob river bed in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Story and photos by Dr Matthew Schurch

We were driving southward down the Aoub when just north of Montrose we came across the two large collared male lions, Vetsak and Sidey. They were lying down fast asleep under a tree and were obviously set for the day, so we drove on.

After passing Montrose we bumped into two male and two female lions walking purposefully up the riverbed. We quickly shot a couple of photos from the middle of the riverbed (parking by the tree you can drive around just south of Montrose), a good spot for clear photos.

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It was obvious what was about to unfold – Vetsak and Sidey were in for a rude awakening.

We turned around and headed back to the sleeping pair and waited for the marauders to arrive. A few minutes later we watched them stalk up the riverbank to get a downhill start on the unsuspecting two. Vetsak and Sidey were on their feet and running for their lives.

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After running a few hundred metres, Sidey made it across the road and up the bank, leaving his friend to deal with the four.

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Foolishly, Sidey changed his mind and returned to the riverbed to find out what was happening, calling as he went. To our surprise, the chasing four diverted back towards him. After another brief run the two chasing males caught up with him and there was a short stand off with plenty of snarling.

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Then the attacks began.

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After a few flurries there was a brief reprieve before the females started arriving; Sidey was well and truly surrounded.

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When the second female – clearly the boss – arrived, she didn’t even break her stride before diving right in and attacking the intruder. This sparked the others. Lions were rolling everywhere.

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During the fight, one of the chasing males must have been hit on the nose and wasn’t too pleased. He walked off to the nearest tree to lick his wounds, shortly followed by his gang. Sidey, having been given a break, walked over toward us and lay down under the protection of a dead tree.

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After a while, Sidey tried to sneak away by walking up the calcrete ridge. But his pursuers weren’t fooled and promptly followed. This is where we lost them, unsure if they were going to kill him or just chase him away.

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We heard a few days later that both Vetsak and Sidey had survived, but they had been well and truly ousted from the riverbed.

Photo specs

Nikon D300 and a 300mm f2.8 lens; 1/1000s, f4.5 and at ISO 200