No animal is safe when there is lion in the surrounds, not even when the predator is lying up during the heat of the day. A scorching hot day in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park spelled trouble for wildebeest visiting a waterhole. By Gaynor Siljeur
In the wild, the chase is often just as thrilling, if not more so, than the moment of capture. Wild traveller Isabel Taljaard and her partner came to the realisation when they stayed at the unfenced Urikaruus Rest Camp in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park earlier this year. What they thought would be a morning off from game viewing took an unexpected and thrilling turn when they had front-row seats to a lion chase.
“We’d decided to keep the weekend relaxed to try and get some much-needed rest. We were going to spend the morning at the honeymoon riverside cabin so were not part of the early departures,” Isabel recounted.
“Just after 07:00 I saw something walking to the waterhole. What a wonderful feeling to spot two black-maned lions and two lionesses,” Isabel enthusiastically told Wild.
As the sun grew higher and fiercer, the pride of lions kept seeking out the shade to keep cool, moving closer and closer towards Isabel’s chalet.
‘’Slowly the morning turned into midday and the temperature climbed to 43 degrees Celsius. It was an extremely hot day in the Kgalagadi and we proceeded to make lunch as we thought the foursome would be sleeping soundly in the heat,” she recalled.
“But suddenly something caught the one lioness’s attention.” Isabel watched as a large herd of blue wildebeest came down to the waterhole to drink. Since they were making their way across from the riverbed, they had no idea there were lions lounging around in the area.
She watched through the window as the herd approached and could almost not curb her excitement – she hoped she might finally have the opportunity to photograph a lion hunt. But she was cautiously optimistic as she was aware of the lions’ lethargy as well as the distance they’d moved from the waterhole to find shade.
By this stage the herd of wildebeest had become aware of predators in their presence and the animals ran off – unfortunately for them they headed in the wrong direction.
“While three of the lions were lying fast asleep, the lioness who’d caught whiff of the situation made her move and chased after them. A mother and calf were the last to leave the waterhole. They were running through the dry riverbed, dodging bushes, trees and dead tree skeletons, but the lioness quickly narrowed the gap between them.
Both sexes of blue wildebeest have horns, an adaptation to open areas where the females need to protect themselves and their offspring. However, they were of little use as the lioness cut the calf off before the mother could react.
Through a cloud of dust raised by wildebeest hooves the lioness caught the calf behind a half dead tree. The other lions were woken by all the commotion and quickly made their way to the tree where the two males grabbed the calf and the lionesses walked away without a bite to eat.”
In a pride of lions, the females do most of the hunting. Despite the fact that the males don’t play a big role in most kills, they often feed before the females.
“This incredible hunt and kill lasted only 14 seconds, but it is an experience I will never forget,” Isabel said about their incredible sighting.
Read more about wildebeest, both blue and black species, in the winter 2019 issue of Wild, available in June.