Big Cat Warriors: Introducing the lions of Savuti

I have been fascinated by Savuti and its lions ever since I first watched that masterly film by Dereck and Beverly Joubert, “Eternal Enemies”. Since then I have been privileged to visit Savuti 3 times, and in each occasion that beautiful, haunting place has shown me a totally different face.

The Savuti “Marsh” is the relic of a large inland lake, which dried long ago, and is now fed by the erratic Savuti channel. It occupies a large area in the west of the Chobe National Park, Botswana. Our first visit was in 1993, when the Savuti channel had been dry for several years. We were in the middle of the dry season and the place looked like the ideal location for a crepuscular Western film. In the bone-dry plain that once was a marsh, we came across the legendary Maome pride, which showed us its most powerful side -that of the giant killers. They had hunted a huge male giraffe and were taking turns to get inside the prey’s ribcage to eat their fill. Then they would come out and walk towards the shade of a nearby acacia, passing just a few meters from us. One of them actually was too full to continue and lay down to rest in the shadow of our vehicle! That was what I call an introduction to Savuti, to wild lions and to wild Africa!

Here is one of the Savuti lionesses at the giraffe kill in Ausgust 1993. A spotted hyaena looks from a safe distance
savuti leona jirafa hiena

When one of the lionesses leaves the kill and passes a few meters from us, we observe the wounds in her hind leg, probably inflicted during the hunt
leona con herida camina

In 1995 we returned to Savuti. It was the end of the rainy season, and the marsh, alhough waterless, was much greener than the previous time. And the lions showed us a different facet too: their family life. Lionesses and cubs relaxed and played among the greenery, in a scene that was as idillic as the previous time had been stark.

A bunch of playful lion cubs of different ages frolic in the green Savuti in april 1995
SavutiLionPlay1

A fallen tree becomes part of their playground
SavutiLionPlay3

But we were as yet to meet the legendary male lions of Savuti. These warriors of the feline world spend most of their time on patrol, and checking nearby prides, moving through an enormous extension of land and occasionally leaving the protected areas -only to be shot by reckless human hunters. At least that was the case until Botswana finally took the bold step of banning trophy hunting altogether.

Then last year we finally returned to Savuti, to find the place totally unrecognizable. Subtle tectonic movements had caused the Savuti channel to flow once more, and the marsh was again true to its name, teeming with water birds and attracting herbivores from miles around in the middle of the dry season. And then, at long last, we came across the feline lords of Savuti. A wild animal does not exist in isolation, and it is impossible to separate the Savuti cats from the stark beauty of the place where they live. These lion prides have survived here through the harshest environmental changes, and now they are adapting to a wet Savuti Marsh once again. We humans go there when we can to marvel at their power, but the lions are tightly tied to that merciless patch of land.
I can hardly wait to get back to Savuti and see those incredible felines again!

An image of raw feline power
savuti male lion 1

Seeing these majestic males patrolling the Gubatsa hills with a castle-like baobab in the background was an epic image, like something out of Middle-Earth…
savuti lions and baobab

Want to see the Savuti male lions in all their glory? Follow this link and watch a clip from my upcoming film about the big cats of Botswana:

Posted on 29/06/2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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