The Star (Nairobi)

26 January 2013

Kenya: With Old Age Comes the Wisdom to Cope

It had been quite long time since I last saw a kill in the wild. It is never a good year for me if the migration ends without witnessing the super predators bring down a sizeable prey at close range.

It does not matter whether it is a cheetah, a leopard or a lion. Provided it is a prey that cannot go down easily. A prey that offers itself like sacrifice on the altar is not exciting to watch.

More so if the clients I have are serious photographers. Action is the key word. The struggle for dear life on one hand and the need to feed on the other hand, makes for a very interesting watch.

I was driving back to the lodge after a rather dull game drive when I met a lion walking the opposite direction. I had just negotiated a sharp bend before I met the lion.

Behind the bend, only about 200 meters away, I had left a group of grazers enjoying the sunset obviously oblivious of the danger coming their way.

The lion looked hungry from the shape of his stomach and visible rib cage. From the slow pace he walked, it would take him some time before he gets to his food court. There was still time to follow the lion and see the reaction of the grazers once they sited him. Therefore, I followed him behind with cameras on the ready.

As we got closer to the herds of zebras, topis and elands grazing together, I drove past the lion to put us into a position where we could watch both the hunter and the hunted in one common viewpoint.

It meant that I had to be behind the herd where the lion would be walking directly into the cameras view finder. I stopped the van and waited. Not long after, the lion appeared in the distance.

The herd had not yet seen the lion. The wind was a great help to the lion. It was blowing towards it and away from the grazers. They could neither see it nor smell it.

A look at the general topography of the area showed that even a lone predator could easily make a kill here. There were intermittent crotton bushes scattered close to the position of the herd and also, from where the lion had reached, there were many termite hills to hide with and plan an ambush.

The lion advanced to almost 50 meters of the first group of zebras. Then he did something completely out of the ordinary for a hunting lion. He climbed on to one of the thicker bushes and exposed his presence to the whole herd.

It was an amazing site to see a huge lion trying to balance himself on a bunch of weak branches that formed a bushy cluster. Once he got his balance, he settled on a normal cat pose with his weight on his rear end and scanned the area full of his dinner.

He made no attempt to hide at all. Considering his state of health, he looked well rounded though seemingly hungry. But he was not in the mood for hunting.

The prey seemed to take all that with a scornful look at the lion. They seemed to understand the language well enough to continue with their feeding and ignore his presence.

Only the young and inexperienced adults showed some signs of apprehension at the site of their ultimate enemy. After what seemed like eternity to the clients, the lion slowed climbed down the bush and continued his lazy walk towards the zebras.

Curiously, the lion walked right through the herd throwing a glance here and there as though he was still considering taking some action. He would slow down at the site of a baby, take a long hopeful inspection and give up.

There is a saying in our language that goes like, old age does not knock on your door. It came to my notice only then, that the lion I was watching was on its twilight years.

He was too old to conduct a high adrenalin act. Instead of using brutal strength like he used to do, he was going to use wisdom and tact. He will stay close to the group until darkness falls. Then he would use the power of darkness to get his meal.

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