The Princes of Crocodile Bridge
This is the most blissful time of the year. With all the rain that we are having, the bush is beautiful and green, the animals are well-fed and happy, and it’s the start of many new little lives. Simply magical.
But with all of the rain, there’s more water in the bush, which means the game doesn’t frequent the river as often, and the lions are where the game is. So we haven’t really been seeing lions at home as much as what we usually do, so I have been going in to Kruger almost every day to see the young males.
But this morning the excitement began at home. It all started with a 5am phone call from a good friend of mine, Jesse, who does safaris in to Kruger. She told me that the lions were hunting around Crocodile Bridge, I dashed out of bed, binos and camera in hand, still in my jarmies with a pair of slops on, I headed down to our units one and two to see if I could spot them.
It was pouring with rain, and it was incredibly muddy, and as I walked through the garage of unit one and two, I slipped and nearly fell on my face, my feet were absolutely covered in mud. But I didn’t care one bit because when I looked up, there they were, “my” 4 young males (all lying in a row, including the one with the scar on his left eye and the injured collared male), and a lioness just below them.
I was delighted to see the collared male is doing well, as he has been injured for a couple of weeks and was also involved in a fight with a big male (debatable about which male this was). I was very proud though, as the young collared male fought back.
(This amazing video above was taken by Hannes Hamman of Saseke Safaris)
Our guests in unit two were already up, so I knocked on their window to let them know about the lions. They must’ve thought I was insane. This strange lady knocking on their window at 5am in the pouring rain, in pajamas with crazy hair and muddy feet.
They didn’t say anything about the state of my appearance though and were instead very polite, thanking me for telling them about the lions, and they let me use the railing around their braai area to balance my camera with my very shaky hands. (I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet).
And as I have mentioned before I am NOT a morning person, and literally the only reason I’ll get up early in the morning is for lions.
The royalty didn’t linger for very long though and began to walk up towards the water tanks near to Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp and then north towards Vurhami Bridge.
I quickly went back to the house, got dressed and headed into the park to see if I could spot them again.
There was a bit of a que to get in at Croc Bridge, but it didn’t take too long. Although the wait still killed me, as Jesse was sending me voice notes with updates of what the lions were doing.
They joined up with more of the pride, and were stalking wildebeest, all of which I missed.
Finally, as I arrived at the sighting, all I could see was their backs as they walked down in to the riverine towards the S28.
I decided to go on to the S28 and wait. The road was soaking and incredibly muddy, and I was rather nervous about getting stuck. But I figured should that happen; I could get some help and it would all add to my adventurous Monday morning.
I was chatting to the Shishangeni guides, and literally wasn’t even there a couple of minutes, when I saw them walking toward the road. The impalas were alarm calling, and I watched as they all peeked their heads out from around the bushes.
They were soaking wet, and full of mud, but they didn’t seem to mind all that much. And then they crossed, it was challenging trying to see them through my wind screen with all the rain, but it was one of those breathtaking moments. No matter how many times I see them so close, I hold my breath every time and my heart races. The very best way to start a Monday, watching the royalty.
They are just beautiful, absolutely enormous, and so regal. I was so thrilled and relieved (I hadn’t seen the young males in a while, and I was worried, especially about the collared one).
As they walked up into the bush on the other side of the road, I could just see the herds of wildebeest and zebras scattering. It was a rather intimidating sight for them I'm sure.
I checked my watch and calculated that it had taken them about an hour and a half from when they left the front of Ellie Walk (Croc Bridge) to when they crossed the S28. It was about 5 or 6 kilometers, and they weren’t even moving fast. It was rather incredible actually. All those times I had seen them on the S28, I’d think to myself, ah they’re here so they won’t come down to the river, but actually, it is so possible.
I’ve been following these young males the whole year, and I have been rooting for them because young male lions have it super tough, and the odds aren’t really in their favour.
Especially in an area like Crocodile Bridge, where there is such a high density of lions.
They are literally surrounded by super prides. The Shishangeni Pride, The Gomondwane Pride, the Vurhami Pride (Their pride), all covered by the 4 big, black-maned Shishangeni Males.
But as the year has progressed, I have watched them often, and have even seen two of them on a warthog kill and wildebeest calf kill alone. So, they are hunting, and they are also quite vocal which I think is very brave. They are also in super condition.
There was a very large, grumpy lioness who did a great job of showing them how to hunt. I actually witnessed this when they took down a buffalo in front of our house in May this year. She kept standing back and would let them take over.
Another recent development, well for me at least is that, I have been thinking this whole time that there are only four young males, but two weeks ago, just a few days after that big male attacked the collared youngster, I had the most wonderful surprise. I saw six of them together just before Vurhami.
I couldn’t actually believe my eyes, the collared male was quite hurt at this point and there was a hyena hanging around, I imagine he could smell the blood, but I felt content because all 6 males were together, offering him some protection.
It was a beautiful scene as it was magic hour, and the young males were golden in the light. The sky had been quite dark, and it looked like a storm was brewing on the horizon, but the sun appeared through the flurry of candy floss clouds, and the sky was lit up in the most beautiful colours.
As the sun began to disappear beyond the horizon, the colours softened to light pinks, oranges and yellows. I wasn’t the only one marveling at the sky, because when I looked at the lions, they were staring in that direction too and would every now and then put there faces up toward the sky.
I stayed with them until 5 minutes before gate closing time, and it was so difficult to drive away knowing they were still there.
My family always tell me not to get too attached, because they are young males and they will move away, but in my heart, I secretly hope they’ll stay here, and form the most formidable coalition that ever existed.
I have a picture in my bedroom of a coalition of six males, and since that sighting, whenever I look at it, I always think about “my” six princes of Crocodile Bridge.