There are some moments in the bush that constantly thrill and enchant me, surprise and soothe me. The moment when you suddenly see a leopard, the moment you see the first burnt orange and yellow of autumn on the leaves, or have a perfect late summers day and realise only a few are left before winter. And then there are moments that are forever there in your heart, like the skies reflection on a silent waterhole.
One of many of these singular, beautiful and powerful moments was a few weeks ago when I got out of the tank close to a lioness. The lioness was dead from a night of violence involving the Mapogo males and some dead cubs. As I walked up to her perfectly still and serene carcass my primal being shouted ‘what if she’s not dead!’ The reflection in her glazed eye showed the harsh truth of pure untamed wild nature.
This instantly takes me back to two places, separated by only a short amount of time, back in December. The first one was just after we had seen the first little carcass of a Kuhuma cub lying dead and discarded in the trampled grass. A few minutes later James and I stopped and looked at some yellow thatch grass swaying in what seemed a cold summer’s wind. Reflecting on the start of our morning and wondering about these lions, these strong kings of wild places. The ‘Mapogo’s’……….I’d never seen them before, maybe I would see them today.

The grass soothed away our anger at the cub’s death and helped us accept the savage but honest spirit of this land. This brings me to the first moment, as clear now as then, when I saw my first Mapogo male. What a lion! We drove off road for long, not knowing how far the bush would stretch until we saw them. I knew we’d see them. Ephraim, who’d also found the cub, had tracked the violence back to a giraffe carcass, killed a day before by the Kuhuma females. Driving slowly, emotions and excitement were high with the possibility of meeting the current threat and future fathers of the Kuhuma cubs. ‘Lion’, don’t know if I said it or just heard it in my heart or felt it in my stomach. Mapogo! Shaka! Big, beautiful, instantly recognised as one of those we will remember as ‘warrior’, ‘iconic’ or ‘legend’. I saw him looking at me. Then his brother, whom I’ve come to think of as Leonides. These were lions! Now the days are growing shorter, cooler, the nights colder, longer. Winter is waiting close, grass grows brown and brittle, yellow leaves disappear like water in the mud. The impalas will start their rut so that more will be born next summer. Some more lion cubs will pass and new ones will flourish. Before the grass grows green again, before the woodland kingfishers return, before we know it, there will be more little lions born from warriors, born from the Mapogo’s, who to me will always be Spartans when I think of them.I leave today, I will miss Djuma, I will miss the lowveld. Just last night, what a memory, finding the lion and lioness in the grass in the dark. Mating Mapogo’s!! Enjoy the wildlife, the moment and WildEarth … it’s in our nature.
Written by Pieter Pretorius