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Lions abound at Rhino River Lodge

By Lion, Lions, Rhino River Lodge

Written by Claire Birtwhistle

Dashing up a dusty road in the Zululand Rhino Reserve, none of us minded the bumpy ride as our guide, Kyle, had promised us a lion sighting. It had been a slow start to the morning drive and when we heard that there was a pride of lions not too far, we just couldn’t resist going to check it out.

On my last trip to Rhino River Lodge, I was treated to some of the best wildlife sightings I’ve ever had, including a fantastic encounter with five adorable little lion cubs and two lionesses. As you can imagine, expectations were set high for this trip.

As Kyle slowed the vehicle to a halt and we all peeled our eyes in search of the lions, we were not disappointed. Just 50m off the side of the road were the very same lion cubs and lionesses that I had seen on my previous trip, three months earlier. They were much bigger but it was definitely them! I couldn’t believe my luck to be seeing these lion cubs yet again. The pride had a kill nearby and the cubs were having fun playing in the dust and occasionally chasing vultures off their leftovers.

Absolutely enthralled by their antics, we sat there for what seemed like ages, just watching the cubs. We were so absorbed by them that we barely even noticed one of the lionesses walking directly towards our vehicle! As if to pose for the camera, the lioness strode within a few metres of us and stood there examining the scene for a while before sauntering back off into the bush.

With that, the pride was on the move again and once they’d disappeared out of sight, we decided to move on as well. It wasn’t long, however, before we spotted yet another lion! Just down the road, as we turned the corner, there he was! A huge male lion with some seriously impressive battle scars, marching with determination across the veld. We stopped the car to watch him and couldn’t believe our eyes when just a couple of minutes after arriving, he walked directly across the road right in front of us and then disappeared into the bush on the other side! Had we been a few minutes earlier or later, we would not have even known he was there.

Still in a slight state of awe, we decided that it was time for a coffee break and headed off. However, the lions were not done with us yet! By complete chance, we spotted the same pride from earlier just a few metres up the road. We all had to do a double take, as when we’d left them, it looked as though they’d been heading in the complete opposite direction! We weren’t complaining though. Emerging out of the bushes, the five lion cubs and two lionesses proceeded to walk right behind the vehicle and across the road, barely even noticing our presence.


It just goes to show, timing and luck is everything when it comes to having good sightings on safari. But I like to think that these lions were showing off especially for us!

Article originally published on Africa Geographic.
All photos copyright Claire Birtwhistle.

King of the Jungle

By Black Rhino, Frances Hannah, Game Drive, Lion, Rhino River Lodge

Stereotypes are way too simple, you know: black rhino are shy and retiring, the lion is the king of the jungle … ranger Frances Hannah explains that what you expect is not always what you get.
I was approaching a block of open plane grassland, the male lion and lioness were well hidden in the long grass but I could see the other vehicle on a sighting in the distance. I was making my way towards the other vehicle when a young black rhino bull stepped out of the thicket to my right and gave us a fantastic sighting, head held high, curious yet timid. Once he grew bored of our clicking cameras he moved back into the thicket of knob thorns and out of our view, or so we thought!

We carried on towards the lions; the male was sitting in eager anticipation; he clearly was waiting for something from the female that she was not willing to give him. As we were enthralled in the lion sighting I saw a dark figure come stomping out across the plane. Mr rhino was not putting up with coming second best and he was making a direct beeline for my vehicle. I changed gears to reverse, ready to get out quickly if needed, the young bull sniffed the air, he was out of range of the female lioness, but was about to walk straight past the male lion! My heart was beating as the ground between the rhino and my vehicle grew less and less. As soon as the bull got whiff of the male it was like a trigger went loose! The rhino bull turned suddenly to face the lion a mere 20 metres to his left and our majestic male lion became petrified and skulked low into the grass. The rhino bull gave one grunt and went full charge towards the lion! The male lion took off like a cat caught eating the pet budgie; the rhino was galloping behind him with no signs of giving up the chase!

The black rhino chased the male lion right out of the grassy planes, over the road and off into the next field where the rhino diverted off up the road. The male lion gave a few roars and moans, obviously feeling very foolish for being chased by a young rhino bull! When the male lion returned to his grassy rest spot, his ego bruised and reputation dented; he felt as if he needed to re establish his manhood, so he went up to the female with determination and all he got was a paw to the face and a very unwelcoming growl! Who did we say was the king of the jungle again??

Meet the cubs …

By Frances Hannah, Lion, Rhino River Lodge

Meeting your offspring for the first time can be quite an event – even if you are a lion, as our ranger Frances Hannah explains.

We found the three big brothers slumped lazily by the dam.  It was early morning and the air was still so I didn’t expect much from these lazy lumps of fur. But then one brother stood up suddenly and made a beeline for the river.  I followed at a distance thinking he’d prefer to lie in the soft sand of the dry river as opposed to the hard dam wall where his brothers had hogged all the shade.  Behind me the other two brothers had also become interested and were slowly bringing up the rear.  I reverses off the road slightly to make way and we saw their interest was in the sandy coloured female running down the sloping hill towards us!


She was charged with attitude and gave her first suitor a few paws around the head – there was a bit of a scuffle with snarls and flying tails!  Then a hot pursuit as the lioness trotted off up the road behind us with an eager male lion behind her.  The brother further up the road in front of us didn’t seem perturbed as he continued climbing up the slope.  A second lioness suddenly emerged from the long grass to meet the curious male.  She guided him half way down the slope in perfect view for our cruiser.  She urinated on a patch of grass in front of him and left him to be engrossed with her scent. But where had the lioness darted off to? Did she have a kill? Or something better!!??


The grass was long and I could just make out the lionesses figure as her honeyed colour melted into the background, but then my guests in the back began to get excited in a hushed yet determined whisper they gasped “here she comes, with some small ones!”


There they were: the 10 week old lion cubs that were the hottest property in the park!  The first cubs of our lions, and my very first sighting of them!


Mom gingerly nudged the brown speckled, blue eyed cubs closer towards ‘potential dad no1’. My heart was racing considering how the male would react, would he attack, defend, or destroy?  He was hovered over the females urine patch, still besotted with the smell, when suddenly he looked up and was met with a small bundle of fur that was seated at his paws staring into his large eyes.  The male looked startled and bent down towards the cub with a determined stance.  We all held our breath for this was the moment of truth.  The big male lion sniffed the cub’s head, then threw back his head and gave out amore of a grunt than a roar.  He turned on his back legs and fled the meeting as if dealing with a bad smell.  “Daddy” scampered away, seemingly intimidated by the new kids on the block!