It was very early – just before 06h00 and we were out on the Plains driving towards Shumba Camp from Busanga Bush Camp. In the dawn shadows we found the Busanga Pride curled up in a circle with Mom, Aunt and the teenager creating the outside of the circle with three cubs squeezed inside, all tucked up and warm from the heat of each other’s bodies. They did not even raise a head when we arrived and we just sat and watched them sleep in the cold pre-dawn light.
The cubs responded to their mother’s wake-up behaviour of stretching and yawning. Instantly the cubs became playful, while their big brother remained in the typical teenager sleep state that only wakes at the crack of noon.
Not far off we saw the outline of what, by its size, could have been mistaken for another game vehicle, but was in fact the large Busanga Male. He was moving from east to west and immediately grasped our attention – a most magnificent and handsome specimen of a lion. If his manliness could be measured, it would be defined by a thick dark – almost blackish – mane that extended well into his shoulders, down his back and to the tops of his legs. Tufts of dark mane hung off his elbows. Towards the crown of his head, the blackness faded into a golden honey colour that indeed looks like a crown.
We followed him across water and through herds of puku and lechwe. As he moved over his domain, it seemed as if he was moving amongst his subjects and they responded attentively. The lechwe would create a comfortable distance from him and then group together and watch him pass as if they were spectators in a stadium. He was regal and commanding.
Such a magnificent specimen of a lion should have an appropriate name. The Wilderness Safaris guides call him “big boy” or “the Busanga male” or “the big one”, but I think that is not personal enough and definitely not befitting such a magnificent lion. After some debate with Mike, I decided to call him Leonard. I felt it was a suitably strong name. I am not sure it will stick, but in the meantime, to me, he was and will always be Leonard!