The sun was beating down lavishly and turned the color of our tender skins into something similar to a near-ripe tomato. We had a great morning on drive and it was nearing 10am. As we started heading back in the general direction of the lodge I thought I would stop again at the lions we had seen earlier that morning at the edge of a muddy pool. There was still some water within the pool and I knew that as temperatures soared and would soon reach forty degrees Celsius the chances of prey coming down to drink were high.
As we approached the lions we noticed a herd of impala taking turns to drink from the little water that was left within the dangerous muddy pool. It was dangerous because in order to reach what water was left, and with pressure from behind, the impala would venture further than what would be considered safe and were at risk of getting wedged into the mud. Most of the pride were oblivious to the presence of the impala, with the exception of two young cubs. They sat up on the lip of the embankment and embraced the movements of the impala with wide-open eyes, the coming and going of wave-after-wave of thirsty impala. Regardless of the escalating heat they were fixed and focused on what was happening in front of them.
Then it happened.
The desperate need to quench his thirst pushed a male impala beyond the limits of what his bony body could withstand, and he was stuck. His soundless struggle simply wedged his skinny leg deeper into the thick muddy abyss. Seconds later another younger male fell to the same fate and there was simply no escape. They were doomed with no chance of flight.
All this commotion had failed to draw the attention of the adult lionesses. The cubs however had not missed a thing. With curiosity getting the better of them they started making their way down the embankment and straight towards the impala, a mere fifteen meters away. The cubs were hardly 6 months old and had no way of getting to the impala through the dangerous soupy mud. Even if they could get to them their young age made it impossible for them to deliver a killing blow.
The fear was undeniably present on the wide open eyes of the impala. They were staring certain death right in the face in more ways than one. There was no escaping the relentless grip of the thick mud, and Africa’s most feared predator was meters away, with deadly intent. To add to their hapless fate, a lioness had noticed the absence of the cubs and as she sat up she immediately noticed what she had been excluded from. Her eyes fell without delay right onto the doomed impala and she stood up with a look of fierce determination. As she neared the edge of the water, head stretched out and belly low to the ground she was ready for business, she knew blood would flow.
As she made her first attempt she realized that the mud beneath her large paws was too soft to carry her bulk and if she was not careful she would share a similar fate to that of the impala. She paused momentarily. One could actually see by the look in her eyes that she was calculating, she was bringing bits of the puzzle together, she was planning to rid these impala of their muddy dungeon and draw them into her vault of teeth and claws.
Then she knew it, she had figured it out and you could see it. It was almost tangible.
With a determined stride, low to the ground she walked up to the larger impala and impaled her teeth into his exposed back, fracturing his spine. She then gave him another three bites to the neck, each one filtering life from his broken body. You could hear his neck snap. It was over within seconds.
She dragged him from the mud and immediately returned for the second, younger impala. This would be far more troubling as he was stuck right in the center of the muddy pool. She sat for a minute and once again she was calculating the risks. I thought that there was little chance of her making it through the thick mud. In a daring and bold move she powered right into the thick of it, seized the terrified impala by the back of the neck and simply walked out through to the other side. This immense display of power caught us all by complete surprise. Her magnificent strength was jaw-dropping. The thick mud was merely a slight nuisance to her as she emerged on the other side. We were blown away, absolutely breathless. We had played witness to one of Africa’s daily battles to survive. What an absolute privilege.
She killed another two impala in exactly the same fashion. It brings to light the opportunism these predators display at the sight of weakness.
This happened many years ago, long before I considered myself any good as a photographer. The images were actually shot with a Canon G7. This goes to show that if you have quality content and a great story, the brand and quality of your camera matters very little.
* * *
Marlon du Toit