Three days ago I picked up Will and Zita Gibson at Mombo airstrip at around midday. It was hot and sunny, and as our vehicle had no roof, I let them know we would head back to camp to cool off, and that we would take about ten minutes to get there. How wrong I was!
The drive to the camp area was uneventful, most animals resting deep in the shade of the big trees and dense thickets along the way, and as we chatted while going along, Will and Zita said they had heard all about Mombo on their previous trip to Botswana and had now come to see if the legends were true, so to speak, and I said I hope that the experience would live up to their expectations.
As we neared camp, I changed radio channels to let the managers know we were inbound, when I caught the tail-end of a flurry of chatter, of which one word jumped out at me- ”diTau!” (Lions!) The Moporota Pride have been coming into camp regularly over recent months on daytime hunting forays, and I imagined this might be just the case. I told Will and Zita there might be lions around the camp, and we would see if we could spot them.
Moments later we came across fresh spoor leading over the bridge, heading onto Mombo Island. As we rounded the corner into the centre of the island, we spotted first one lion, then two, then heads started appearing everywhere- at least twelve lions were before us, their attention focussed forward, away from us, towards Little Mombo. In the distance, in the shade of the trees and tents, we could make out a small bachelor herd of impala, which had all of the lions staring intently in their direction. As we watched with bated breath, the hunt unfolded around us, the lions moving like set pieces in a deadly board game towards their nervous prey.
The camp island, being surrounded on three sides by water, becomes a perfect trap if the lions are able to block off the escape route back over the causeway- a strategy they have had some success with recently.
In this case, they were all in the right position to flush the impala back towards them, which happened after a few breathless minutes.
Suddenly, the impala broke ranks and fled along the line of walkway furthest from the most visible group of lions, not knowing others lay in wait in the dense palm scrub ahead of them. The speed with which everything happened next was extraordinary – a phalanx of lions ran in to cut off the impalas’ escape, and after a second of silence, we heard a heart-stopping thud as one of them collided at full tilt with a fleeing antelope. An instant later the carcass was invisible below a melee of lions squabbling over the meat – the other impala had managed to escape their clutches and get to safety. There is nothing quite like the sound of twelve lions growling, snarling and crunching through a kill as they wrenched it into ever-smaller pieces, depending on the strength of which animal was doing the pulling apart. A few minutes later, almost nothing remained, apart from what the larger, fiercer lions had managed to run off with to feed on in peace.
With bloody muzzles and licking their chops, the majority of the cats then wandered off to rest in the shade, under a grove of trees near the entrance road to the camp.
This left us with the tricky manoeuvre of how to get to the camp reception without being seen by them, which we managed by using the concealment of a large termite mound in the entrance and using the vehicle as a screen. By now a little sunburned and in need of a cold drink, but smiling from ear to ear, myself, Will and Zita were met by Katie and Liz with a big ”welcome to Mombo!” As an incredible welcome it indeed was…
Photographs by Will Gibson.
Till next time,