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September 2010 Bush Blog
September 2010
Splendidly Spring

September is a great month in Gorongosa.  Now I know that this doesn’t sound like much of an intro for what is supposed to be another riveting installment of the Explore Gorongosa bush blog but the truth is – September IS a great month in Gorongosa.  Why, you might ask?  Well, in a slight change from the normal monthly round-up, I wanted to share one particularly fruitful series of events that occurred on drive one really quite warm but otherwise ordinary late September afternoon recently at Explore Gorongosa that might illustrate my point...

We had a couple of old girl-friends from Canada, Tori-Ellen and Helen (I know – 1st prize: 1 Canadian, 2nd prize: 2 Canadians!), who were out to soak it all up and get their souls a little bit back on track.  Big game sightings and the eternal wildlife checklists were not part of their agenda.  However, no-one had told the wild and woollies of Gorongosa this information.  So far in their trip, we had already put out bush fires with our bare feet, swung from trees like monkeys, watched a thousandty-one water birds attacking the catfish run, and extended their stay by a couple of days just to see and do so much more in this wild wonderland. 

On the day in question, it had been a hot afternoon so we had taken in a swim and a cold beer at Chitengo before heading off on game drive.  The first hour passed pretty quietly, a few warthogs, a troop of inquisitive baboons, guide spouting forth absolute tripe, etc, etc.  And then we picked up some lion tracks on the road – what looked like a male and a female.  We scouted around a bit and soon found a young male (turned out to be Brando Junior – Le Blonde) lying out in an open sodic area.  We were quite excited, as the sun was soon to set and he was lying in a great position to get the classic lion and sunset picture.  He started a low contact call before getting up and shimmying along back in the direction we had come from. We were slightly peeved that our photographic intentions were a little thwarted but wondered at the same time what was going on. It soon became clear – a female was some few hundred yards back behind him, lying out in the shade of a fever tree.  She was the younger lioness who is missing one of her hind feet from a snare some years ago (Tripod the Younger).  She was, as always, an absolute beauty though, and it appears we were not the only ones who thought so – on meeting up with her, young Brando made it quite clear what he had been up to with her for the past few days.  They nuzzled, they schmoozed, they flitted, they flirted, they cuddled and they generally made it clear to us that they were saying good bye to each other after a rather protracted session of lion-love.  Once the violins had stopped and the tissues were soaked, he waved goodbye and headed off into the sunset roaring (seriously – Hollywood would have been all over this scene like a rash).   She just lay there, doing a bit of minor grooming around her front paws, and looked quite aloof about the whole performance from our leading male.  We stayed with her for a bit to try and get our sunset and lion photo, albeit a little adjusted from previous plans. 

After about 10 minutes we set off in search for Brando Junior and after following his tracks for about 500 meters we found him lying on the road looking pensively off to the side.  We approached slowly, in case he was regarding his dinner menu for the evening.  As we came round in front of the bush that was obscuring where he was looking, we discovered a herd of about 12 elephants being shepherded by a rather young-looking matriarch.  They were watching the lion watching them being watched by us.  Then the matriarch rushed at the lion and all macho pretense was thrown out the cot and off he bolted down the road much to our glee.  However, he who laughs last... Once the lion was out of the immediate picture the elephant cow decided we were next on the move-out-of-our-way list. After one or two decidedly close passes, she backed up a bit and kept a close eye on us, trunk raised and ears out, as her family trotted across the road not 5 meters in front of us.  Then with a flap of her ears she was off after them.  It was only then that we noticed young Brando lying down a few hundred yards down the road with what can only be described as a self-satisfied smirk on his face.  At least we hadn’t run with our tail between our legs buddy.
 
After all this excitement we figured that the day’s climax had been reached and then some.  But nature is always on her own schedule.  Brando Junior got up and started along the track in front of us roaring and sent marking as he went, obviously now in search of big brother Brando.  After another twenty or so minutes of this we decided  it may be dinner time for us and so we left him heading off into the bush (but in the direction of our camp) and returned to camp via some very relaxed civets and genets on the road that evening.  Not 30 minutes later, just as we were sitting for dinner we heard roaring coming from the direction of Brando Junior’s last movements.  Soon our askari, Rui, came through and calmly told us that he had just watched as a lion crossed through towards camp at the bridge (I am constantly amazed by how calmly Rui can pass on such information).  We didn’t need to ask how close he was though because a second later he roared again right in the middle of camp and the echo – like a homesick shiver - went all the way down our spines and back.   Since our yummy chunky tomato soup starter was currently being served we decided that we had had enough lion action for one day and let him pass on listening all the while as his roaring got fainter and fainter into the floodplain behind camp.  Dinner continued and whilst we were scoffing down the last spoonful of our choccie puddings, that all too familiar sound started again, this time though there were two lions and they were heading back towards camp, fast. 

We assumed the Brando Boys were now reunited and off on territorial patrol, as they had been doing more and more of late in this area.  I suggested we go and watch the two of them come through the river and we headed off towards the game drive vehicle.  As we climbed on we shone the spotlight down the track and there were two lions walking pretty quickly down the path, but not two boys.  No, Brando Junior was being led by a lioness – one of the Egyptian Ladies, the rival pride to the neighboring Tripods.   Now if Tripod the Younger is hot, then this caramel-colored Cleopatra lookalike is the Angelina Jolie of lions... she is absolutely a perfect lioness.  Brando Junior was hitting the jackpot tonight it seemed, although she was making some speed and seemingly pulling away from the sauntering male behind.  We decided to stick with her and watched with excitement as she came across three porcupines in the road just across from camp.  She sniffed at them before giving them a wide berth, oddly, since lions are known to favor these odd rodents on the dinner table.  Tonight, she was in no mood for food though, and by the body language and her pace, she was in no mood for overly-hormonal boy-lions either at this stage.  She started to roar after a few minutes and we eventually left her walking down the edge of the main floodplain into the night and under the slowly rising waning moon.  We headed back hoping to see what had become of our boy, but found no sign of him as we got closer to camp. 

As we crossed through the river in front of camp we were all high-fiving after what had been a pretty awesome day.  As we came up the other side though, our headlights picked up a male lion standing proud (Lion King-style) at the top of the bank, right in our parking area.  It was Brando Senior, obviously following all the roaring commotion now.  We had effectively blocked off his path so we quickly reversed and pulled off into the river.  After a brief pause, he wondered down – swaggered down is perhaps a better description – and headed off after the other two.  No sooner had we turned to follow him when Junior came dashing out from the bushes, pouncing on his older brother like the comical Hobbes would do to Calvin returning from school.   The two rolled around in the dusty track for a while, a friendly reuniting ritual of growls, ear-chewing, and general child-like cavorting.  After the bond was re-established, off they strolled down the road in pursuit of the lioness whose roars could still be heard in the distance.  After one last a stereophonic roar from all three big cats, we decided it may just be time to call it a day.  Whew...

And so there we have it; September really is a great month. And with its sprouting spring blossoms, its warm summery days, its drying-up riverbeds, and its autumnal leave coloration, it is the ultimate four-seasons-in-one-day month in Gorongosa.  It’s also a pretty good time to hang out with our lions, as was so beautifully demonstrated to Tori-Ellen and Helen that afternoon and evening.  A great month in a great place full of great stories...

Until next month then, happy days and see you all soon! 
 
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