“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.” – Out of Africa
After living under canvas for three months, a detour along the Kafue River wasn’t a game drive. It was the long way home. From the first sighting of a pride of lions on the riverside, we were witness to a plot that plays out nightly, with or without an audience – a private viewing that struck a primal chord in a crescendo of drama.
Suddenly, the black tips of ears caught my eye in the lion-coloured grass and the eyes of the first Kafue lioness I'd seen were on me. On closer inspection, the grass was littered with lions – mime-like paws pointing skyward, the odd flick of a tail, the unwavering yellow gaze, the sharp-edged yawn of a waking cat in camouflage.
As the sky darkens and lightning blazes around us, the grass comes alive with lions. One, two, three, four, five males stretch, yawn, lope past. Three lionesses lead the way. We follow them along the road, a glimpse of tawny flank and paw in torchlight. We follow the last lion as he dissolves into darkness. We turn a corner to find all five males on a puku – bones cracking, lions grumbling hungry protestations at one another. Everywhere in the blackness there are lions, making the dark darker.
One of the males breaks away with the bulk of the kill, his brother in hot pursuit. Each is holding on, keeping that position for over an hour, refusing to stand down even when a third joins the fray. The lionesses are glimpsed spectres on the periphery, watching from the shadows. One rustling in the darkness an arm’s length from my open window alerts me to the fact that the chaos of the kill is not the only thing being watched.
As the final bones and viscera of the meal disappear amidst the roars of the satiated, the pride comes together once again, draped in the grass in varying poses. We leave them suspended in the storm, masters of the night, until the curtain rises on another hunt.