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Friday, 23 March 2012

The Yellow-Eye Pride of Abu Camp

07 Mar 2012
Sighting: The Yellow-Eye Pride... An Amazing Story
Location: Abu Camp, Abu Concession, Botswana
Date: 28 February 2012
Observers: Joseph Molekoa, Motamo Mate, Ben Ndjavera, Jaco Tlotlego, Mike and Anne Marchington, Julian Münder, Nina Reichling, Caylee Christos and Virgil Geach.

Since the annual inundation started subsiding on the Abu Concession last year in September, we have been getting to know the Yellow-Eye Pride of lions: A tenacious lioness with her three offspring, who are now about two years old, two males and a female. Naming them the Yellow-Eye Pride stems from the fact that one of the young males has amazingly bright yellow eyes.

The dominant female is an extremely adept hunter, taking down large prey such as young giraffe, large male kudu, roan antelope, zebra as well as regular smaller kills such as impala, all of which have been well photographed. The best photographs we have so far of the youngsters is when they came across a pangolin one morning. Guests were treated to the most amazing spectacle of them playing with the rolled up scaly ant-eater, as if it were a football.

The pride have become very accustomed to our game drive vehicles, to the extent that the young female likes to follow the vehicles for a short distance when the guides pull out of a sighting.

We have all become rather possessive over this pride, having got to know them so well. Life around our camp is harsh for the lions, which constantly have to compete with the dominant predator - the hyaena. With the large hyaena clans that continually skulk around their territory, lion and leopard continually have to defend their prey and they often lose their bounty to these formidable packs. The Yellow-Eye Pride seems to have managed well and has been witnessed teaching a couple of hyaena a lesson when they get too close to their dinner - but they have also been observed losing the battle, so they have been found hunting as much in the day as they do at night.

On the 28th of February, a disturbing incident took place.

Guides had heard some lion interaction near the airstrip and decided to investigate. The first sign they picked up, besides their tracks in the sand, was a splash of fresh blood in the middle of the road. Thinking that the lions had just made a kill, they followed. What they found was not what they expected: a large, black-maned lion lying in a clearing. Their immediate thoughts were that this intruder had come into the area and managed to chase the Yellow-Eye Pride off their kill. This was not so.

A short distance from where the intruder lay, they came across the Yellow-Eyed male - he was clearly badly wounded and the blood we had found was unfortunately his. While still observing, the large male got up and approached the young male once again who tried desperately to back away, cowering, growling and mewing. He was begging for his life. Fortunately the big male did not attack again. He scent-marked, raked the ground and moved off without so much as looking back at the havoc he had just wreaked.

The guides continued to observe the young male who then bravely got up, and literally dragging his hind quarters behind him, moved into the thicket on a nearby island. The news spread around the concession and a veil of sorrow hung around the camps.

That evening, some of the managers approached the island where the young male was last observed - they could see eyes shining in the spot light but no sound or movement. The worst was feared.

The following afternoon, another contingent of managers went to visit the island, not a blade of grass moved. Just as the sun was going down, the remaining three pride members appeared from the tall grass. It was pitiful; they approached the island uttering low mewing sounds, calling their fallen family member. It was extremely difficult to say whether there were any answering calls coming from the island and all watched in great sorrow. The pride stayed for a few minutes and then left the island heading south over the wet floodplains uttering soft calls as they departed. Everyone felt that a conclusion had been reached - he was dead.

The remaining three members of the pride have been seen in and around the area since then. On at least three different occasions when the pride was spotted, they appeared restless, uttering the same soft mewing calls. This is apparently not unusual behaviour for a pride that has recently lost a family member.

The three remaining Yellow-Eye Pride members have been spotted and photographed by guides and guests quite regularly this month and on the 11th of March, our Dutch guests at Seba had a morning game drive out of the top drawer.

Their first exciting encounter was with a leopard, sitting in the middle of the road. The sheer size of the beast automatically indicated that it was a male. Their guide, Joseph, immediately stopped the vehicle and all the guests got their cameras ready to photograph him. As they honed in on the creature, he suddenly shot off into the tall grass next to the road and came out with a kicking, struggling steenbok clamped in his jaws. As soon as he managed to get his kill under control he slowly dragged it back into the tall grass where they lost sight of him.

As if this was not enough excitement for one day, they had no sooner left the leopard sighting when they came across the three members of the Yellow-Eye Pride a short distance further, swimming across a deep channel. They were lucky enough to be able to follow the trio who were then observed climbing a fallen baobab tree nearby. Not too shabby for a morning drive!

On their last morning at Seba, the 13th of March, our Dutch guests were treated to the most amazing sight of all. They were once again driving in the vicinity of fallen baobab, when they came across the Yellow-Eyed male! The news has spread like wildfire filling the camps with huge excitement and anticipation.

He is very thin and walking with a limp but he is still alive! He was observed again this afternoon lying in a thicket calling his pride. For a short while our spirits are lifted - now we all hold thumbs that he can pull through.

The last time that the pride of four was seen together on a kill was the 25th of February when they were found feeding on a large male kudu. Considering that he has managed to stay alive for 19 days with such bad injuries, one has to ask the question: has he had help from his pride?

I am really not certain if any observations have ever been made of "Brood Care" among lions but all of us who have been observing this pride on the Abu Concession are of the opinion that the three healthy members of the Yellow-Eye Pride have been caring for their stricken son and brother. Is this fact or fantasy?

We'll continue to observe and report back on our findings and let's hope it has a happy ending.

By Anne Marchington

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