It was a crisp morning in the Ngorogoro Crater, about 50 degrees with a thick layer of fog. Game drives start at 6:30AM before the heat comes. We had been touring the Crater for 3 hours and had just finished breakfast when we got the call. There was a lion on the hunt. I learned many things on our trip to Africa, but I learned first hand on this particular morning that female lions are the hunters. Male lions only hunt if they have been separated from the pride. As we drove up on the scene our guide pointed her out immediately, “there she is crouching!” he whispered excitedly. It took me a few seconds and then I saw her. She was beautiful. Wild lions are unlike anything you’ve ever seen in a zoo. Their fur is thick and vibrant in color. Their eyes are piercing. They are strong and when they walk across a field in the Serengeti every animal takes notice. What was about to unfold before my eyes was something I never expected to witness. It was the Discovery Channel times a hundred.
The lion was crouching to stay hidden from the herd of wildebeest that were about to pass. As soon as the lead male wildebeest came even with the lion he sensed her. The wildebeest started stampeding as a defense mechanism. The lion went in for the kill. She easily grabbed a baby from the herd and down they went. A lion kill is not bloody – lions suffocate their prey by clamping their jaw down on the neck. After about two minutes we were sure the baby was dead. Just as soon as the lion released the baby from her jaw, she was up again to make another kill. This time she went for an adult wildebeest and took it down about 20 feet from the baby. We were told by our guide that it was very common for a lion to make several kills when its large pride needs to eat. So, just like that, two kills in about four minutes…and we thought that was it.
The lion was sitting watch over her latest kill when I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye. At first, I thought it was another wildebeest who had gotten separated from the group and I was sure this one was about to be the third kill. But no, it was the baby! The baby was not dead. The baby was now standing up and stumbling around shocked. The herd of wildebeests that had lost two of its members just minutes ago now noticed the baby stumbling around. It was like they had practiced this a thousand times when four adult wildebeest broke off from the herd and ran to the baby surrounding it. They then brought the baby back into the herd. Our guide told us the baby would probably survive and also become a leader in the herd for beating the lion.
When I first heard the call on the radio about the lion kill, I was unsure about wanting to see it. But, I have to say, it ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. There is something about watching an animal in their natural habitat following their instincts that is so incredible. By the end of the kill, I was yelling “you go girl!” because I was so proud of that lion. That lion was not there hunting for her pride that morning. She was hunting for herself. She ate what she could of the wildabeest and left the rest for the hyenas, who we saw coming as we were driving away. With her full belly, she walked back to her cubs hidden near the wall of the Crater and nursed them. I witnessed the circle of life in person, and it took me a few hours to get a normal heartbeat back. What a rush!