Friday, the last filming day of the trip, started badly. The brand new generator broke down. It had been bought hurriedly to stand in for the main generatator which broke down a few days earlier. We just had to hope that we had enough battery power left for filming that night.
Later in the day, storm clouds started to gather on the horizon. The ground was already getting slushy from rain on the previous few days, and damp black cotton soil can become like ice if it gets another wetting. We were dreading having to follow the lions through thorn scrub and flooded luggas in the pitch dark, so we added Sean ‘Boy Scout’ Hartley to the team for his intricate knowledge of the area.
After setting off, we soon found the two Lazy Girls, with their three cubs larking about in puddles. At that point bit of a roar-off ensued when some of the Motorogi females turned up with the Lazy Boys - who are probably the fathers of the cubs of both prides. The Lazy Boys got a slapping from the Motorogi girls while the Lazy Girls ran back south with their cubs to their favourite lugga. Pretty lucky for us as it happens, but not so good for the Lazy Boys who seem to have been found out for two timing.
And then our worst weather fears were realised. The heavens truly opened, dumping 50 (much needed) mm in just an hour. The usual drizzle that follows made filming and following the Lazy Girls even more of an ordeal than it might have been.
With no moon, and a thick layer of cloud, this was about as dark as it ever gets on the plains. The Lazy Girls walked confidently forward despite the fact that we knew they couldn’t see anything that wasn’t silhouetted against the sky. Tommies ran from the unmistakable sound of approaching lion footfalls with their heads held low to see where they were going. The lioness with a missing tail tuft suddenly strode off on her own, leaving the other lioness and the cubs alone in the middle of the plain. The tuftless lioness immediately headed off towards the flooding lugga as we struggled to reposition the car in the rain and pitch dark to see what she might be heading for. The thermal camera quickly revealed she was looking towards a grazing herd of zebras.
Stalking silently through the bushes the lioness crept ever closer to the unsuspecting zebras. Inching forward she stalked to within 10m of the herd.As always seems to happen with lion hunts, we had to make a quick descision to reposition the car in preperation for where we hoped the chase would take place. Filming between dense thorn bushes, flooded luggas and manouvering over rocks, we decided to reposition the car for a better shot before she made her run.
No sooner had we repositioned than the tuftless lioness ran to a zebra and a mad chase began - away from us. The move was starting to look like a catastrophic error when the zebra turned back on itself and Tuftless Lazy Girl didn’t give up. Just as they were coming out from behind a bush, Tuftless leapt at the Zebra. Somehow she missjudged, or the zebra made an evasive move - and Tuftless shot straight over the zebra, landed on her head and cartwheeled a few times before bouncing back onto her four feet. This was obviously very lucky for us and the zebra. At that moment, we saw a bright shape on the thermal camera shooting past the front of the car. It was the other lioness, previously unseen to us and our ever vigilant ‘Boy Scout’ spotter, darting from the darkness and intercepting the zebra. (A bit unlucky for us). By the time we got the car turned around, Tufty Lazy Girl had the zebra standing, but still needed help from slightly limping Tuftless to bring it down. It was a strong and healthy stallion.
The question is, whether or not this apparently fine stallion was selected by the lions for being somehow unfit ( as suggested by ‘survival of the fittest’ evolutionary theory). Or whether this zebra was just plain unlucky (as suggested by some more recent evolutionary ideas). In this case, it appeared that the lions simply took the closest zebra, and were lucky enough to have the strength to bring down all 400 kilos of him. And we were very lucky to be there and pointing in the right direction on the darkest, wettest night of the trip.