Ten young lions: an extraordinary 24 hours at Qorokwe


Ten young lions: an extraordinary 24 hours at Qorokwe is by Dr. Christiaan Winterbach (see also his previous blog post), photos by Christiaan Winterbach and Johan Calitz (originally posted 23 June 2020 on the Wilderness Safaris blog):

Qorokwe area of the Okavango Delta, Botswana

4 June: It is first light; it is cold and we are approaching Sunset Pan. Something is moving in the grass. It is a lion. Make that ten lions. It is the first time that we see this group of young lions since February. It is a very unusual group of lions. They all are between 2 and 3 years old. There are no adult lions with them.


We move with them as the sun start rising. They still have blood and muck on them from their last kill. They are very playful and are blowing little white patches of mist in the cold. At a small pan they drink water and warm up in the early sun. They make a half-hearted attempt to chase some warthogs before settling down for the day.


We return in the afternoon, hoping to stay with them and see a hunt. We got so much more than we bargained for. A bit after 17:00 they woke, play and groom a bit, before setting off in the direction of a big pan. One lion spots a lone buffalo bull and goes into hunting mode. We find a point on the opposite side overlooking the pan and out of the way.

The buffalo is about 200 m away in scrub mopane. The lions move in formation towards the buffalo. The buffalo gets wind of the lions and takes of with ten lions chasing and trying to get on it’s back. After a left turn the buffalo is running around the pan in our direction. One young male catches up with the buffalo and jumps onto it’s back. The cameras are working overtime.


With a rodeo jump the buffalo send the lion crashing. It looks like they are going to pass in front of us along the edge of the pan. A sharp turn and the buffalo is almost running in a line to pass behind us. Another lion is on the back, and is filling the frame at an alarming rate. With only a lion head in frame I lower the camera. The buffalo hit the left front of the vehicle! 


Twenty meters further the lions surround the buffalo. None of the lions manage to remain on the buffalo. The lions lost the surprise factor. The buffalo chases lions in all directions and make a break; he breaks and hit the vehicle again. He stops about ten meters in front of the vehicle and contemplate. The lions are too quick for him to get to, but this green thing doesn’t move. A stationary target! He head-butts the bull bar before running down to the open area next to the pan. 

The lions regroup, but the buffalo is now taking the initiative. He pursues the lions and chase them around. The young lions are learning valuable lessons, and one day they will make their first buffalo kill, but not today.

After all this, the young lions did not even manage to break the skin of the buffalo – there is not a drop of blood visible on him. He is bruised, but not as much as the lions’ egos. When we left, they were still playing chess with the buffalo, soon to leave and try for something else.


The next morning, we found them about 2 km away on the remains of a big kudu bull. They are about to receive another lesson in lion life. They drifted to the edge of their natal pride home range. One of the neighbouring pride males picked up on their activity. He bursts onto the scene and ten young lions scatter for their lives. About 500 m away the big male corners one of the young ones in an open area. We witness a proper display of dominant and submissive behaviour. The rest scattered in all directions. After the big male moved off, the young ones start to find each other. They survived two big lessons in 24 hours.

11 June: Alarm calls of the Wattled Cranes in front of the unit draw my attention. Turns out that our ten lions came visiting us this morning. All ten are together. Three lechwes are nervously looking at the lions. One lioness made an attempt to approach them, but the lechwes made an early escape. Slowly they make their way and take position next unit 9. They have a beautiful view of the main area at Qorokwe, and a buffalo bull grazing there. Eventually, they sneak up on it. They charge and the buffalo burst through some thick palm bushes, leaving the lions behind. These lions will keep trying and one day they will succeed. For the rest of the day the lions enjoyed the hospitality of Qorokwe, relaxing in the shade. Late afternoon they checked out of Qorokwe on their next adventure.


PS

The Okavango Delta is the 1000th World Heritage site and home to 1200 lions. Qorokwe is a 5-star lodge in the Okavango Delta, owned managed by the Calitz family. Wilderness Safaris do the marketing and bookings.

Dr Christiaan Winterbach is an ecologist assisting with environmental monitoring at Qorokwe. He has more than 20 years’ experience in Botswana, specialising in carnivore surveys. He is quick to seize any opportunity to photograph lions.

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