You never know what's going to happen.
That is the mindset we normally have when we head out on drive or on a walk. That is what keeps it exciting. It's what makes you want to learn more. See more.
The wonders of nature keeps you captivated at the best of times but once in a while you see something that makes you realise that there are no scripts in nature. Things happen that surprise you. Shock you.
I had a moment like this two days ago.
These moments make you realise that no matter how many books you read or how many times you see the same event play out, we can never truly understand what goes through an animals mind as they live out each day in a struggle for survival in the African bush.
On Thursday afternoon we headed down to the southern part of Madikwe to try and pick up on lion tracks that some of the guys had early that morning. We drove around the area for a while but did not find any tracks. As we moved on, a few minutes later we found a dead Red Hartebeest in a dried up pan.
The female antelope has not been opened up yet and upon further investigation we found a female lioness on the opposite wall of the pan. She was still out of breath and must have just finished killing the Hartebeest. Lions kill by strangulation and takes quite a physical toll on them - hence the heavy breathing.
As the lioness got up and moved towards her prey we settled in to watch the scene unfold. Lions are normally quite methodical in how the open and start feeding on a carcass but what followed blew our minds.
As she reached the carcass she started opening the antelope from the stomach area. Nothing unusual so far.
The first goal is normally to open the belly area and pull out the stomach.
So far everything was going pretty much 'by the book'. Adele joined me on the drive and was watching the scene unfolding through the binoculars. My guests were also watching the scene through their video camera and binoculars.
As she continued, the lioness got hold of what we thought was the stomach ans started pulling it out. As she stood up to get a little more leverage Adele said "That is not the stomach!"
The Red Hartebeest that got killed was heavily pregnant!
Now I have seen a lion kill where the prey was pregnant but normally they would just carry on feeding as if nothing was wrong.
This is where the scenes that followed had us all dumbstruck.
Once out of the mother the lioness very gently placed the foetus on the floor and spent quite a bit of time smelling and investigating the unborn Hartebeest.
Her body language was strange for a lioness in her situation and it seemed that she was clearly perturbed by what has just happened and kept on looking around as if to look for help.
After a while she kept on feeding and started removing the stomach contents, all the while seeming to make a concerted effort to stay away from the foetus.
After a while, and not feeding at all, she returned her attention to the foetus and very gently picked it up by the nose.
She stood, with the foetus in her mouth, for quite some time looking around in all directions as if checking for something. After a few minutes she started walking off towards a thicket very close to her kill.
She stopped again and very gently put the foetus on the floor. All the time looking around and looking quite tense and nervous. She then proceeded to nudge the foetus with her nose, gently rolled it over and picked it up on the back of the neck as if it was one of her own cubs.
She continued looking around and slowly moved towards the thicket.
She carefully walked towards the thicket where she proceeded to place the foetus very carefully at the bottom of the thicket. She nudged it a few times with her nose still looking around all the time as if she was expecting either help or danger.
After another few minutes she slowly returned to the carcass where she did not continue feeding but in stead looked around again and then slowly laid down where she fell asleep.
This was definitely one of the most extraordinary moments of lion behavior I have ever witnessed. What was she thinking? Why did she react the way she did?
We always have to be careful of projecting our own emotions onto the animals we are watching but this situation made this extremely difficult. Did her 'mother instincts' kick in? Was there still a heartbeat that she could feel? Was she trying to protect the unborn Hartebeest?
It is questions like this that always make you realize we do not know everything. These questions makes you realise once again the special privilege we have of being able to witness the things we do. You can read as many books or watch as many videos as you want but you never know what will happen when you are out in the field.
This sighting was something that caught us all off guard and will stay with me for quite some time. I do not know if I will ever understand exactly what happened but in a cruel, beautiful way we witnessed a piece of African magic.
It is moments like this that you truly feel how special nature is. There are no laws or rules in nature that is set in stone. Nature will carry on in it's own way whether we are there to play witness or not.
Let's hope we can have the privilege to share this magic for many years to come.
As always I look forward to hearing from you.
Until next time.
PS: I have added a post which links to the video footage that my guests got of this event. Click here. G.