"Chongo might have crossed the river with his brothers!!"
That was the news that we heard. From a fairly reliable source. They were on the other side of the river apparently and it seemed as if they had wanted to cross.
Chongo was a famous one eyed lion, who along with his four brothers formed a very strong coalition called the Bila Shaka males. That name itself sounds rugged and a trifle intimidating but his battle scarred face, his impressive, huge mane, and his overall demeanour just made Chongo, the entire package.
Chongo !! What a magnificent specimen !
When we got this news, we were waiting for hours next to a pride of mainly lionesses, most of whom had taken refuge from the heat inside a drain pipe. We could hear frequent snarls and growls as the ladies fought for a comfortable space within the tight confines of the pipe. Occasionally, one of the ladies who lost her position will look grumpily out of the pipe as if trying to judge the wisdom of stepping out and then decide that the heat and the flies were not worth the effort.
You can avoid the heat inside the pipe, but not the constant pushing and nipping of your sisters !
We weighed the options. A pride of sleeping lionesses, but right in front of us, who might get a little active as the day progressed. On the other hand, five, strong, aggressive males who were on the move but, whose location we knew only in very general terms.
We decided to take the risk and set off in search of Chongo and his brothers.
We sped towards the Governor’s Camp, as it was somewhere there that the group was seen, and as we bounced along the trail, we noticed a bit of a dust being kicked up much further up.
As we continued to speed towards our destination, with an eye on the dust, we realized that the dust was being kicked up by a small herd of elephants.
Elephants kicking up a cloud of dust can give rise to some really cool images. I was already visualizing the sort of close up shots that I would try for, a slightly warmer tone on the images with the golden dust forming a cloud through which a sharp eye or a tusk can be seen…yeah, I was getting far ahead of myself.
When we reached very close we saw the rest of the scene and the setting was intriguing.
The elephants were not moving. They were standing still. Huddled together. Nervous. There were a few calves with them too and naturally that was a responsibility the adults will take extremely seriously. The herd comprised four adults and four calves, and two of the calves being rather young.
The nervous huddle
And right in front of them, lay a small pride of lions. The fully grown were all lionesses and there were a few sub adult males too.
Now, this was a whole different ball game.
Will we chance on some intense animal behaviour ? Will the elephants continue to go towards their destination ? Or will they turn back ? Will the lions give way or will they fancy their chances and try to target one of the calves ?
We took images from one side. Then we hurried to the other side and tried to get some fancy shots of the pride through the legs of the elephants.
The nervousness of the herd was palpable. They clearly didn’t want to turn back. Whatever was the reason for them to go down this path was important enough for them not to retreat. The lions were also totally focused on the calves.
Some of the calves seemed unmindful to the danger ahead and roamed around in the way that kids will, looking for something that might catch their fancy. The adults were undecided. Ears flapping, trunks swirling around as if searching for a clue in the air for what they should do next.
What should one do ? The answer, my friend , is blowin' in the wind !
Finally, the elephants decided.
Time to call the bluff of the lions. They moved ahead, trumpeting a little bit, keeping an eye at us too and then, all of a sudden, it was all over.
And suddenly, it was all over.
The lionesses decided that the risk was too much and got up in a hurry and moved away, allowing the elephants safe passage. The elephants walked on, often turning around to assess the risk.
Yet another one of those incredible moments that fill up the day in the wild.
There were no memorable photos that any of us got. There was no action that we witnessed. However, we were part of those nervous long minutes that both sides went through and the excitement of anticipation, as we crouched, sweaty hands clutching our cameras, is prize enough.
Its always the experience that is the clincher.
A good photograph is just a bonus.