When you celebrate your birthday in the Kruger National Park, you naturally expect an out-of-the-ordinary gift. One birthday girl’s wish came true with a somewhat puzzling wildlife sighting. Why exactly did this lioness kill a young baboon? By Arnold Ras

Driving from Kruger’s Crocodile Bridge towards Lower Sabie early one morning, Wild Card traveller Charmane Baleiza heard the deafening alarm calls of a troop of baboons. She was on the H4-2, shortly after the S130 turnoff, so stopped her vehicle to see what was the cause. She noticed a lioness crossing the road right behind her, on the way to the river.

“Judging by her enlarged pupils and tail flicking, she was clearly agitated by the noise coming from the nearby tree. She started calling, either for cubs or another lion, but looking at her teats, I definitely thought cubs. While grooming, she kept watching the baboons with great irritation. She made a few mock charges until the noisy baboons kept quiet,” says Charmane.

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Pictures by Charmane Baleiza.

Although the lioness disappeared momentarily, Charmane knew the primates were very aware of the big cat’s exact location. She decided to wait.

Enough is enough

“The next moment, a relatively young baboon sprinted across the road in front of my car, with the lioness in full pursuit. As the baboon frantically jumped for the tree next to my car, the lioness grabbed it mid-air. As they say, the rest was history.”

But the chilling spectacle was far from over…

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According to Charmane, the lioness at no stage attempted to sink her teeth into the baboon. “She tried to break the baboon’s neck, but because it was fighting back so intensely, and even trying to stick a finger in her eye, she opted for its back. I must state: there was no violence. Her main objective was to break the neck, alternatively the back. My impression was that she wanted to silence the baboon, to end its screaming – all this with no violence. If you look at the photos, you’ll note that her paws are relaxed with no nails extended.”

Now what?

Lioness kills baboon, lioness eats baboon. Right? Wrong.

“After the baboon stopped moving, something very strange happened. The cat seemed disgusted; trying to not only to remove the baboon’s hair from her mouth, but also its smell. All was suddenly dead quiet. What had just happened?”

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After the kill, the lioness rested a few seconds. Then, while looking at Charmane, the big cat threw the baboon in the air, caught it, took it a few metres away and played with it for some seconds. “The lioness then left the scene, never to return. There wasn’t a baboon in sight, only the singing of birds as the sun came up.

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“I passed by there in the afternoon and the baboon was still lying there – untouched, in the grass. No other predator touched it.

“The whole ordeal between the baboon and lioness lasted about 20 minutes, but felt like a lifetime. I remember wishing the baboon would just give up.”

Your thoughts?

Was the lioness trying to protect cubs by killing the baboon to create a diversion? As the baboons made it difficult for her to hunt in the area, was the killing her way of scaring the rest of the noisy tribe away?

We would love to know what you think.

Also read: Sylvester the lion’s new life in Addo