Our day-time birding safari (http://heathers6wadventures.com/the-most-magnificent-wonderful-fantastic-fabulous-amazing-best-birding-day-ever and http://heathers6wadventures.com/the-big-five-of-south-africa-and-so-much-more) had been so incredible. We’d seen so many animals along with the amazing birds. As we were ready to leave Kruger National Park toward the end of the day, a female lion, tired, and irritated with the cars that were surrounding her, was rumbling to her nearby pride. Nic, our fabulous guide, told us she would soon rejoin them, and that the night belongs to the lions. How right he was!
When we went back to Kruger a few days later for our “sunset tour,” the one thing we hoped to see, because we hadn’t seen one yet, was a male lion. We did, and what we saw was a fascinating picture of the circle of life. (Warning: The next two paragraphs and accompanying photos may be upsetting to some readers.)
Not too long after we entered the park, we saw a medium-sized male lion under a bush. He was on his back, rolling around a bit, and we probably wouldn’t have thought anything of it if Patrick, the guide for our night tour, hadn’t told us he was injured. The injury, he explained, was probably a broken pelvis, and it probably came about from a fight with a larger lion.
Apart from critically endangered rhinos and elephants, the park’s wildlife managers let nature take its course with injured animals. After all, as much as the idea makes us squirm, hyenas, wild dogs, and vultures need to eat, too. We passed back by the lion on our way out, and he was still alive, using his huge front paw to keep the branches of the bush above him out of his face. Patrick said he had a “passport to heaven,” where the lion lays down with the lamb. We loved that “passport: phrase, and I will use it in the future.
In the meantime, the circle of life goes on. As proof, not too far down the road, a huge male lion with at least two females nearby was feeling amorous. They were quite far away, but we could hear the females vocalizing. We spent just a little time watching them while the stunning African sunset demanded our attention, too.
Finally, as we neared the park gate and our lovely sunset tour was coming to an end, we spotted a large male lion lying in the middle of the road. It had rained the previous two days and had been cool. Patrick the guide explained the road offered some warmth, which this single male took advantage of. He eyed our safari truck, posed for some photos, stretched, and got up to take a walk. We followed, which did not impress the lion. He “marked his territory,” wandered a bit farther, came right up to the truck (I pulled Emily back from the side because he was so close), and then we let him go on his way.
Below are a few other critters we saw on the night tour, including a wildebeest, a Cape Scrub Hare, a darling Steenbok, and some elephants. The soaring highlight of the sunset tour, though, was the majestic male lion, who showed us beyond a shadow of a doubt that the night belongs to the lions!