Gretchen’s Trip Report: Part 7 (lion kill!)

February 13, 2012  By: Gretchen

After a bit of getting settled and relaxing in Porini Mara Camp in Kenya, we headed out for our evening game drive.  We were hoping to see some predators on our drive as we hadn’t yet managed to come across any big cats during this trip.

Evening game drives are not allowed in the national reserves; it’s a good reason to ensure you plan time both in the reserves and also in the conservancies where night game drives are on offer.  Night drives offer a different view into nature as well as different viewing opportunities.

We started our drive and within moments were surrounded by a large herd of elephants who were peacefully feeding. They moved around the vehicle slowly (and quite closely!); they seemed utterly unaffected by our presence.  It was a pleasure to be among them to witness their quiet movement.

After the elephants, we ran across a sweet family of dik-diks (very small antelope with long legs). Not long after, we came across a family of lions. Not just a handful of lions…twenty-six lions. As noted in my previous report, there is only one camp in the Conservancy, so we had these lions all to ourselves.

The pride was waking up after the heat of the day and doing a bit of grooming. With their movements, it was only a few minutes before we were surrounded and had lions in every direction. The group in our vehicle had been on safari many times (probably over 100 times collectively), but no matter how seasoned, it seems that no one ever gets tired of seeing big cats. We spent close to 20 minutes observing and photographing the lions before our guide suggested we move on (to which we agreed reluctantly). Upon departure, we came across another elephant family and enjoyed watching them for a few minutes. The light was starting to wane and we were probably just a minute or two from setting off for a spot to enjoy sundowners.

Suddenly, we saw a streak across the hillside behind the elephant family. Then another streak. And another. It was only seconds before our driver had us bouncing through the bush to find the lions and see what they were chasing. In less than two minutes we came upon four juvenile males trying to drag a very large warthog from its den. Other members of the pride continued to run down the hill one by one and join in the fight with the warthog. Through clumsy but dogged determination, the lions finally managed to extract the warthog fully from his hole and had their first meal of the night – right in front of us! We were absolutely breathless in the vehicle.

While this video is vivid, it’s impossible to convey the chill of the lions taking the warthog down or the adrenaline of witnessing a kill. We sat rapt in front of the scene as they devoured the warthog; in the end the entire pride had come down to partake where they could.  The video does not do the experience justice, however the sound certainly conveys some of the ferocity of the pride during a kill.

Our guide explained that some of the younger lions who were unable to get a bite of dinner would have in fact had access to the meat if the alpha male were there, as they were his offspring. Not two minutes later, the alpha bounded out of the bush in front of our vehicle and scattered the lions from the carcass.  He protected it from the adolescent males as the cubs moved in, then eventually carried it off.

By this time, we had nearly missed our opportunity for a sundowner with any remaining sun.  Our guide took us up a hill to catch the last light on the horizon and we all talked excitedly about what we had just seen while toasting with our sundowner drinks and keeping one eye over our shoulders to be sure we were far enough away from the lions.  Few of us had ever experienced anything quite so exciting on a game drive!