On the trail of the legendary Kalahari lions
“It’s difficult to describe just how vulnerable you feel when your eyes meet the unwavering stare of a predatory lion.”
“It’s summer in the Kalahari and the temperature, normally an energy-sapping 30-something degrees Celsius, is pushing 44. The wind is picking up and purple clouds, the colour of a bruise, are gathering. Serious rain is on the way. A herd of skittish springbok antelope hightails it to the dunes, and the swirling sand fills our mouths and eyes with grit. With no chance of picking up fresh tracks, the search for our big pride male lion is abandoned until daybreak.
Back at camp, while turning chops on the braai (South African for barbie), we’re treated to a mother of an electrical storm above the distant dune ridges. It lights up the campsite with long flashes of piercing white light, like someone’s flicking the switch on a fluorescent lamp. Luckily the rain doesn’t come until much later, but when it does, the relentless drilling noise it makes on our tent means we’re hardly rested when it’s time to hit the trail again at sunrise.
At least it’s stopped raining. Provided we get out before anyone can spoil the trail with their tyre tracks, the wet sand should preserve any fresh pugmarks. The search is on for the black-maned bruiser who, like a tawny-skinned Tony Soprano, heads up the local pride. We’ve named him Big Daddy because he’s a massive brute and has recently fathered cubs. They’re old enough to be tumbling along with the family group, so there’s a chance we’ll catch up with them. Although, in these parts, the mortality rate for young lions is high. Abandonment and starvation are common, if the jackals don’t finish them first.
The lions of the Kalahari are legendary, topping the bucket list of every self-respecting bushwhacker in southern Africa. Experts will tell you there’s no real difference in physique between them and other African lions; that other lions can have luxuriant dark manes like this and other males can grow just as big. But they’ll also not deny that when you see a Kalahari male standing proud in this arid landscape he’ll appear bigger, more handsome and far more imposing than his savannah cousins…”
To read the full article by Ann and Steve Toon and to find out what it felt like to lock eyes with the king of the Kalahari, grab your copy of get lost.
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Africa photography © Steve Toon.