We came back from the Zambia to find that Britain was in the middle of a particularly insane period of politics. No great shift of the imagination was needed to appreciate the kerfuffle around Ms Truss: lions can outdo humans in this sphere on any night of the week in the Luangwa Valley.
Let’s have a catch-up. Two power-crazed black-maned lions were servicing three separate prides – a job that involved impregnating the females, appropriating their kills whenever possible and terrorising any males foolish enough to turn up.
We were out in dark, in a vehicle, a spotlight picking out the action. That’s when roaring filled the air. Don’t confuse a full lion roar with the petulant snarl you get before an MGM film: the real thing sounds like a vomiting god and it carries for miles. And there was a female, singing in the spotlight as if she was Cher, dominating the valley: every muscle of her body tensing for each individual roar.
A male joined in, out of range of the light. Then another lion and another: roaring lions at every cardinal point and us in the middle: what could be lovelier? That’s when things began to get complicated. Another female entered the area: pale, burly, a lioness on a mission, roaring fit to burst. Between roars she was energetically marking and scatting. That’s not another musical reference: she was urinating and defecating, not because she needed to go but because she wanted her scent to dominate the place: to drown out the scent of any other lion for miles around.
It was a takeover bid: she was moving the boundaries of her own family group into the territory of the Chichele Pride. All that was left of this once-mighty organisation was two females and two cubs. But the cubs had been fathered by the black-maned confederacy, and at least one of these, perhaps both, was nearby. Should she move in for a full-on confrontation? Would one of the males intervene?
The decision was made for her. The older Chichele female decided to back down, taking the cubs with her as she left. The second female stayed behind: not to fight but to watch. She was the rearguard. The roaring scatting female stayed where she was, glaring into the night. The rearguard dropped to her belly: watchful, passive-aggressive, still a threat.
A major point had been scored by the invading female, but the Chichele mob were still hanging on and the two males cubs were strong and fit and healthy. Perhaps one day they too would have a pride to service – or even more than one. The roaring was over: we were left to the noisy silences of the African night.
- I was co-leading the Ultimate Luangwa Safari for wildlifeworldwide.com.