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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.

What’s cuter than a lion cub? 5 lion cubs!

By Lions, Sightings

Written by Claire Birtwhistle

Guests at Rhino River Lodge were recently treated to the most adorable sighting of five cubs and two lionesses in the Zululand Rhino Reserve. The reserve has a small population of 13 lions, making a sighting like this not only incredibly cute but also quite rare and special.


Claire was one of the guests who were lucky enough to experience and photograph this special sighting. This is what she had to say about it: “My partner, Wes, and I arrived at Rhino River Lodge on the Friday afternoon but were too late for the afternoon game drive and had to wait until the morning for the next one. I remember saying to Wes that if we missed any spectacular sightings I would be devastated. Little did we know that the reserve had its own special treats waiting in store for us. To say we were extremely eager to get out into the Zululand Rhino Reserve the next morning is an understatement. Meandering across the river bed and out into the bush, it was hard to believe that just the day before, at that very time, I had been fighting my way through Durban traffic. It never ceases to amaze me how one can drive for a mere few hours out of the city and suddenly be surrounded by pristine wilderness. I had three things on my list that I hoped to see: lions, rhinos and the elusive wild dogs. So, as we set out that day I kept my eyes peeled for anything that looked like a cat, a giant rock, or a spotty dog. What began as a somewhat slow start to the morning game drive, quickly escalated when our ranger, Ryan, spotted the first animal on my list. Lions! I could hardly believe my eyes. Wes and I turned to each other and grinned as just a few metres to our left, lying on the side of the road, were five lion cubs and two lionesses. Everyone in the vehicle squeaked with delight, yanked out their cameras and began frantically clicking away.


There was no need to rush though as the cubs seemed just as curious about us and proceeded to march right onto the road in front of the vehicle, as if to pose.


While Ryan quietly radioed the other rangers to alert them to the sighting, the cubs delighted us with their lion antics, much to one of the lioness’ disgust, who by now had walked off on the other side of the road and was waiting patiently for the cubs to finish performing.


We could see from the lion’s visibly distended bellies that they’d just enjoyed quite a sizeable meal but that didn’t stop the cubs from fighting, playing and pouncing around the place.


At just six months old, the little lions had been under strict supervision from their mothers up until now and were only just starting to gain a bit of confidence and curiosity.


This was apparently the first time the cubs had put on such a display for guests so we felt extremely privileged to be part of their audience. It won’t be long now until these seemingly cute creatures turn into killing machines!”


Originally published on Africa Geographic.

Lions Learning to Hunt

By Lions, Sightings

Written by Shannon Airton and Heidi Watson

For a lion, learning to hunt is one of the most important skills that it will ever acquire. In the early days hunting is a combination of instinct, observation, and practice for young lions. Wildlife photographer Heidi Watson was on a game drive at Rhino River Lodge when guests were privileged to witness a hunting lesson with a lioness and her two sub-adult cubs. She shared her photos and story with us.
Early one morning the Rhino River Lodge game drive happened upon one of the Zululand Rhino Reserve’s resident lionesses and her sub-adult male and female cubs. The guests watched as the lions began their morning by rubbing against each other, licking one another, and playing a bit together. These social behaviours are important in helping lions reinforce the bonds that are so important to their survival.
lion-pride-rhino-river-lodgeSuddenly the lioness became very focused on something in the distance. As we looked to see what had caught her attention, we noticed two mature nyala bulls browsing, completely unaware of the lion’s presence. As the lioness, with her cubs close behind, approached the nyala, they caught wind of her and fled.
nyala-bullThe mother, a little despondent, immediately turned her attention to a large warthog.

The old adage, ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’, certainly rings true in the lives of predators, especially when a young animal is learning the skills involved in successfully taking down prey. With the warthog in sight, the female cub took the lead and began to stalk her chosen prey.

The warthog had now turned to face the road and the moment he did so, the lion sprang into action and began the chase. The warthog tried to evade the lioness by ducking under a fallen tree, which forced the young lioness to jump over it while still in pursuit. The warthog certainly didn’t waste any time, and at full speed ran down the dirt road leaving the young lioness in his dust.
At the end of an unsuccessful chase, the young female turned around and trotted back to her family. Though she appeared quite pleased with herself, her mother and brother seemed decidedly less impressed.
As a last-ditch effort the young female began chasing a group of nyala bulls, but with no clear strategy involved, she charged after the antelope with yet another disappointing result and for the third time had to go back empty-handed to her awaiting brother and mother. Not every sighting on a safari ends in a spectacular fashion and not every hunt by a predator ends in a kill. For the tourist, sometimes watching the story unfold is its own reward. For the predator, sometimes having a pride that supports you is the most important thing. They say practice makes perfect, and we heard that later in the day this small pride did indeed make a successful kill.

Originally published on Africa Geographic.


Our Guests Love Our Lions

By Lions, Rhino River Lodge, Sightings

Guests love lions.

They love to look at them, photograph them, and tell everyone how close they got to them.

Guests love lions.  Except possibly the guests from this weekend.  New to game reserves, the couple were happy to have ranger Frances take them reasonably close to a male who was relaxing.  However the male woke up and joined by his brothers came nearer to the game drive vehicle and settled down to call out to the females.

Rangers call it “vocalising”.  The guests called it “shattering”.  Nothing can really prepare you for the visceral experience of your first lion roar, especially one at close range.  The vehicle vibrates with the powerful resonance and your chest cavity quite simply shakes.

In ranger raptures, Frances turned round from the driver’s seat to her guests to enthuse about the quality of the sighting, only to find one quite overcome by the experience.  It was enough, more than enough.

On the guests’ request Frances avoided the lions for their remaining drives.

Of course other guests were disappointed they only got to see our boys sleeping, which lions do most of the time (18 to 20 hours a day!!).

Supper Snacks

By Lions, Rhino River Lodge, Rhino River Lodge Rangers Report

On the sundowner drive yesterday we caught up with our three “big boys”, the male lions.  I had four guests in the car, and as the first fellow ambled along the clicking of camera shutters increased markedly.  Lion #1 was followed by # 2 and a little later by #3, and they were quite content to settle in the grass.  Showing off for the cameras they rolled around, yawned and stretched and #3 even came closer to the vehicle, about 5 metres away, flopping down and acting pretty much like any cat.

While we were concentrating on #3, out of the corner of my eye I saw movement, and we all got to see #1 jump up and pounce on something.  #2 joined in what must have been an unsuccessful hunt, but #1 was quicker and we heard great squealing.  I managed to get the vehicle closer and we saw #1 had caught a small warthog and was settling down to eat, with the most graphic crunching and munching sounds.  #2 was keen to get a share, but was more distracted by the closeness of the game drive vehicle and the whirr of camera shutters.  #1 took this moment to move his kill a little further away, chewing and chomping even more furiously. #2 quickly followed to grab what he could.  Poor #3 was left right out of the action.

When dinner was done the boys settled their stomachs with more stretching and rolling, (and posing for cameras), and then it was time to for us to move on.

Male lions generally mark the lions’ territory, and they range over a few kilometers moving far away from the female hunts.  So the boys have to fend for themselves, and sort out their own supper snacks.  Nature is quite OK with this, one of the other spectators to this hunt was a male Nyala who kept an eye on much of the proceedings from a safe distance, until caution got the better of him and he slunk away into the bush.

As for Duze and guests, it was time to head to a different spot for our own sundowners and marvel at the big cats’ display (and bemoan the camera batteries which were now flat!).

The BIG 5… We have them!

By Conservation, Lions, Manyoni Private Game Reserve, Rhino River Lodge, Safaris

On the 1st of July 2011, Zululand Rhino Reserve officially became a Big 5 reserve with the introduction of 3 male lions. An historical day for conservation, returning lions to an area that they previously inhabited. 

The 3 young males have been in a boma at Phinda Game Reserve for the last couple of weeks, until finally the go-ahead was given and they could be bought over to their new home. A few days before they were bought over to us, they were fitted with telemetry collars so that we can keep track of their movements and whereabouts. Once the lions have settled in, and we have an idea of their range, the collars will be removed. 

Lion sedated and about to be fitted with the telemetry collar

Right now the lions are in a boma here with us, and they will spend a few more weeks in the boma so that they can acclimatise and monitored for any disease that they may have contracted. If they do need any medical assistance, it is much easier for them to be treated in a boma than if they were out roaming around. 

If all goes to plan, the females which are from a completely different reserve, and therefore completely new bloodlines, will be joining the males in the boma soon so that they can form bonds and create a cohesive pride. 

Young male fast asleep under sedation

Exciting times here at Rhino River Lodge, and the competition is fierce between all the rangers at the different lodges situated inside the Zululand Rhino Reserve as to who will spot the lions out on game drive first!