Lion’s pride on show

No one sleeps when the king of the jun­gle hunts for a mate

Life & Style Weekend - - TRAVEL - Shirley Sin­clair

WE HEARD him long be­fore we saw him. The deep, re­ver­ber­at­ing roar fol­lowed by sev­eral husky huff, huff, huffs woke us from our light slum­ber. He was close. Very close.

No, the lion doesn’t sleep tonight. And, ap­par­ently, nei­ther do we. In fact, he was right be­hind our Gond­wana Lodge suite, call­ing for his fe­male mate, and wasn’t go­ing any­where.

By morn­ing, talk around the South African San­bona Wildlife Re­serve break­fast buf­fet was that the male white lion had only just left our area.

Our sa­fari ranger Marco Fitchet soon con­firmed the night’s ex­cite­ment, point­ing out the lion’s paw prints in the sand by the road, head­ing west out of our lodge. Within min­utes, we were headed with haste past the big dam and to­wards the hills.

We could see him from afar – his white coat un­mis­tak­able against the green of the low-shrubbed, semi-arid Suc­cu­lent Ka­roo land­scape. As we drew closer, we took up po­si­tion on the road in front of him. And waited. He was on a mis­sion, hav­ing al­ready cov­ered just over 3km in about 50 min­utes. While not run­ning or bound­ing, he kept a steady pace: ev­ery step mea­sured and de­ter­mined.

Then – sa­fari gold. He came up the road and crossed right in front of our Toy­ota LandCruise­r. I was seated on the right side, di­rectly be­hind the driver, and couldn’t be­lieve my eyes when he walked right be­side me. Only the body of the open ve­hi­cle sep­a­rated us.

He non­cha­lantly passed by, deem­ing the fa­mil­iar ve­hi­cle and its seven oc­cu­pants no threat.

Lean, strong, with a beau­ti­fully coif­fured mane, the bold big cat in­deed reigns over this king­dom. As one who grew up with the Kimba the White Lion car­toon on TV, this meet­ing of hu­man and big cat seemed sur­real.

San­bona, in Bar­ry­dale, of­fers one of the clos­est sa­fari op­por­tu­ni­ties from Cape Town – about a three-hour drive away, in the heart of the Western Cape’s Lit­tle Ka­roo.

With the spec­trum of ma­jes­tic Ka­roo land­scapes within its bound­aries, the pri­vately owned wildlife re­serve is reached from Route 62 – the world’s long­est wine route – and lies at the foot of the Warmwa­ter­berg Moun­tains. At 54,000ha, the mas­sive prop­erty is as large as Eun­gella Na­tional Park near Mackay and boasts the big five (a term given to the five most dan­ger­ous an­i­mals hunted on foot). The big five in this case also in­cludes a pride of lions, made up of mem­bers with the re­ces­sive white gene as well as the tawny va­ri­ety.

Over three nights and four days at our all-in­clu­sive lodge, we man­aged to en­counter four of the big five: African ele­phants, lions, rhino, and Cape buf­falo. We only missed the leop­ards. But for me, the male white lion rules. What a hand­some beast he is.

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HAND­SOME BEAST: A male white lion at the San­bona Wildlife Re­serve in South Africa.

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