Monday, August 9, 2010

Megafauna meltdown

The Lion

If you're attacked by a lion
Find fresh underpants to try on
Lay on the ground quite still
Pretend you are very ill
Keep like that day after day
Perhaps the lion will go away

Spike Milligan

Why am I writing a post about lions?

After all, I live and work in a lion-free environment.
In fact, I went to a lot of trouble to find a study site that didn't harbour big and bitey beasts (lions and elephants) so I could walk with the mongooses, fear-free.
So why am I now concerning myself with these massive, great carnivores?

Yesterday, when I arrived at Bugbears' favourite termite mound, I didn't find the usual merry gathering of giraffes. I was a bit surprised, but then I saw why they'd disappeared. Trailing past Bugbears' termite mound were the tracks of two large lions. Now, I'm no great tracker. I tend to waste hours poring over smudgy paw marks, vainly hunting for the forensic subtleties that separate hyena from dog, leopard from cheetah. But when it comes to an adult lion, there's no mistake. Spread your hand as wide as it will go, and you still won't span the pug mark of a lion.

These two males are enjoying a holiday from the nearby Greater Kruger Park. Much to my chagrin, lions tend to wander through here once or twice a year. Generally, once they'v left the park, they don't have much of a shelf-life; sooner or later they chow down on a valued commodity (cow, buffalo calf, sable, roan, etc.) and get themselves shot as a result. I've never yet encountered a lion when on foot and, since Kruger's lions tend to retreat from pedestrians (unless, of course, you stumble upon their kill or cubs), I began to cross my fingers that I'd see them.

But then I met the stump-lions. Stump-lions will be familiar to anyone who's tried to spot lions when game-viewing (i.e. on safari). They're actually close relatives of stick-snakes, and they're normally quite rare around here. Not this morning. It only took a couple of encounters - my heart leaping and the gasping panic tingling through to my finger tips – before I realised I didn't really want to meet a lion on foot after all. I mean what does one do? Obviously retreat slowly, but to where? How wide is a wide berth for lion? With more than half a kilometre of bush between myself and the car, there's no 'place of safety'.

It was while I was pondering these weighty questions, that I realised my stump-lions weren't even realistic. They were more like stump-St Bernards. Thanks to our familiarity with large dogs, we all have a mental picture of big predatory mammals, and most wild carnivores (from jaguars and wolves to hyenas and cheetahs) fit the bill. But lions are outside the box. Put simply, lions are BIG. And I'm not just talking Great Dane/Irish Wolfhound big. The shoulder height of your average male lion is 1.2 metres (4 feet) which is also my shoulder height (give or take an inch). And lions weigh three times as much as I do. Oh, and did I mention their length? From nose tip to rump, males can measure 3.3 metres (11 feet) which is bigger than your average four-seater lounge.

Having scared myself silly thinking about all this, I decided to give up on Bugbears and visit Ecthelion instead. Here I found even fresher lion tracks and was treated to a rousing chorus of yowling by the local jackals (who undertake such performances when they've sniffed out a body).
I spent less time in the field yesterday than perhaps I should have.

To cap off a stressful day, I arrived home to find two sets of massive elephant prints marching down my driveway. A few of Kruger's elephants usually roll up here in the late dry season (searching out fresh greens) but they're a month early this year. Although I think it's wonderful that such animals exist, and l love seeing them mooching past the house, walking the dogs becomes an exercise in courage as we venture forth into Jurassic Park.

Photo by Arno & Louise Meintjes


 Check out the blog carnival I and the Bird (# 131) at The Flying Mullet for lots of intriguing posts about our feathered friends.


  1. I would LOVE to house sit!! If you are interested, my e-mail address is at the top of my blog!! I was going to take time off to go bug hunting then.

    What a great post Lynda!! Yes we can sometimes scare ourselves silly with these log-bucks and rock-bucks as I always called them. Even worse is a stump-lion. LOL!!

  2. This post reminds me of a television program I saw were this guy walked around the bush with nothing more that a big stick to defend himself with while he was trying to get close to a pride of lions when ever they went for him he just stood up a shouted at them while waving his big stick LoL!! what people will do to get on television :))

  3. I'm spooked just reading about them!

    I get that way about saltwater crocodiles. Fortunately, they're not a problem up here on the Tablelands. But if I have to do any mangrove or river work, I always take volunteers with me ...

  4. In a way I have to agree with you Philip but I once had a lion come into camp and as I had guests with me and he was between me and the kichen where we kept the rifle, I stamped my feet, waved my hands and shouted "Shoo" to him and he calmly turned around and went back out. LOL!!

    This is NOT a bush story but actually happened. The worst of it was that they shot the lion two days later as it had become a man-eater and already killed two people!! Luckily for me he was not hungry that day or else I would not be here telling this story.

  5. Joan,
    Thank you! I was getting anxious that I was going to have to sentence my animals to a boarding establishment (can you board a porcupine??).
    I'm glad you survived your man-eating lion encounter. 'Shoo' often works wonders.

    Does this mean I should carry a big stick, or that I should find myself a TV crew?

    Note to self: recuit chubby, slow-moving volunteers.

  6. I particularly like that last shot. The picture of the golden mane in the rays of sun is magical.

  7. Here in Alaska, we face big bears. Several people a year get killed around my part of the state. Not only do I run into them in the forest from time to time, they have shown up on my doorstep, and peered into my window. (I live on the second story). It all makes life more interesting. Check out the Bear Comes to Visit post of my blog, The Life of a Painter, on the Nature Blog Network.

  8. No problems to porcupines or anything else you might have too Lynda. :) These are the kind of things I had as pets as a child. :)

    I think getting a stick would be easier than a film crew who make too much noise and scare everything away. :)

  9. Sciencedude,
    Yes, I love the texture of the grass too.

    Bears are spiffy critters. I love your picture of the one looking in the window. I'd still be having nightmares about it, if it happened to me!

  10. Hi Lynda

    Love the lion pics!
    If you want to see some pics of our baby lions,
    you can go on to my sisters blog.

  11. Hey

    I just love looking at all your pics!
    Did you take all of the photos?
    Dont you just love Wildlife it is the best
    I love looking at Birds,Animals,Insects,Reptiles,Plants lets just say everything!We have got some Banded Mongoose in the Reserve and alot of babys to,we have also got the Yello Chacma Baboon,Vervet Monkey and very rare SAMANGO monkey etc!If you want I can send a little list of some of our animals in the Reserve!

  12. Kristen,
    Most of the photos aren't taken by me. I'm NOT a keen photographer (I explain why in the post 'Why I don't take photos' under the May archive). If a photo isn't credited to anyone, it means that I took it.
    It sounds like you're living in a wonderful place. I longed to be in Africa when I was your age.

  13. It is wonderful here! I am sure you take beautiful pictures.

  14. I just want to say hello!

    I also want to tell you that we have got a baby servel she is a week old! My dog has produced milk and is now feeding the servel! It is so funny to see a dog feeding a wild animal! So how is every thing on that side of Africa?

  15. Hi Kristen,
    Your dog sounds amazing! And I can imagine how cute a week-old serval must be.
    It's very beautiful here just now. All the Knob Thorn trees have come out in flower, and everywhere you look there's a sea of golden blossoms.

  16. Lions can be scary, especially if you have nowhere to retreat or defence. My experience with lions was in the Zambezi Valley. It is unnerving when you hear them grunting around the camp at night. About a year or so before the brother of a friend was taken by a lion that leapt from the dark and carried him off.

  17. Hi Lynda

    We have also got the knop thorn tree here but they have not bloomed yet!
    Yes you are very right a week-old serval is very cute!
    Our dog is very amazing she feeds all the baby wild animals it can be rather funny!

  18. Max-e,
    I don't need to hear 'carried off' stories. I'd just persauded myself that I'm being unreasonably paranoid and that lions are essentially harmless!

    I wonder if your serval will grow up thinking it's a dog??

  19. Hi Lynda

    Maybe he will be just like a dog! We bought a collar for the servel so that when he is big he can walk on the leash!

  20. Kirsten,
    I don't think any cat could be just like a dog! Still, I've walked my pet cats on a leash (when I'd just moved house and was afraid they'd run away and get lost). It worked OK but they hated it!

  21. Hi Lynda

    Yes! A cat cant be like a dog, but a dog can be like a cat,our dog stretches on trees just like a cat would! I love the pics of the Kangaroo and the parrot they are the best!We have came to sumer now and it is very HOT but when I say HOT I mean HOT on Tuesday it was 40 degress in the house and 48 outside! Sorry I have to go to bed(school tomorrow) BYE

  22. Kristen,
    Oh you poor thing! It got to 42 here on Tuesday and I thought THAT was hot. Thankfully it's overcast and cool again now, but there's still been no rain.

  23. Hey Lynda

    We are also waiting for the rain to come! Last year there was not much rain, but when the rain comes is can even take a villages grass roof off we call them monsoons! It was 42 today in the house, but my dad filled our swimming pool! It is so HOT that the servel even gets into the dogs water bowl! After school today we went for a drive in the park and saw loads of animals and we even saw 5 Dwarf mongoose and a very very small baby. keep well BYE

  24. Kristen,
    Your serval sounds adorable.
    I'm glad you saw the mongooses; the new babies are soooo tiny! The females in one of my mongoose groups gave birth two days ago, but everyone else is still waddling around pregnant. They all seem to be running a couple of weeks later than usual this year (probably due to the cold winter and fewer bugs). Hope you're enjoying your swimming pool and it's not so hot.

  25. Lynda,

    Yes he is adorable but getting very big he can climb a tree now and when you are making his bottle he likes to climb up you leg all the way to your head! Yes they are tiny they look like mice! If you want to look at some pics you can go on my sisters
    hope you like it!

    Speak soon bye

  26. Kristen,
    Sorry I've been so slow getting back to you but I've been in bed, quite sick with malaria (avoid it!). I really enjoyed the photos on your sister's blog (including the ones of you doing goofy things!).
    I hope you can train your serval out of climbing you before he gets much bigger (I have a cat who sometimes does this - although only to waist-height); it's so horrible when you're wearing summer clothes!
    Have you had any rain there yet? We've had only one light shower but at least it's cooler here at the moment.

  27. hey

    Sorry about the Malaria it is not very nice,my mom got malaria when we were living in South Africa and was in hospital for a week and the doctor said that one more day and she would have been died! We have not had rain yet! It is hot in the day but at night you do need a sheet!
    The serval is getting very big and is slowly becoming more affectionate the only thing that he does is in the night he sleeps by your feet and when you rollover he bits your toes!

    Got to go have school tomorrow!
    Hope you feel better soon!BYE

  28. Kristen,
    Your poor Mum! Thankfully I found out I had malaria early on (I recognised the symptoms since this is my second time), so I wasn't so badly off.
    Have you had some decent rain yet? Here, everything is going green and the trees are flowering but all the waterholes are virtually dry. Fingers-crossed we get some proper deluges soon.
    I saw pictures of your serval on Courtney's blog. He's lovley, but getting so big!! I hope he grows out of toe-biting or you may find yourself a few toes short!

  29. Hey

    Yes we have had rain here and all the rivers are flowing,and since the river flows through the villages all the kids are swimming bathing and having a good time since it is so hot! I am glad you are ok! I saw the pics of the frogs and the Kudo they are relly nice! We have a frog that has been sitting in the same place for a month.

    I have got to go one of our staff fell down a rock and my dad has gone to get him lets just hold thunbs that his ok! BYE


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