A Chance Encounter

Wildlife Spotlight | 19th October 2020

A chance encounter between some lions and rhinos is the topic of the latest in Ranger Sean Jones’s series of posts sharing his experiences at Shambala Private Game Reserve.

Setting out on safari is always exciting, and this time we were heading to an open plains area in the northern parts of the reserve on a peaceful morning drive. As we approached the plains, a flicking movement caught my eye. We moved closer and noticed a male Lion lying under a tree and next to him was the lioness. Both were flicking their ears in an attempt to get rid of some pesky flies. My guests on the vehicle gasped in excitement! It’s quite a sight when you find the ‘King of the Jungle’ as it’s not always that easy to come across these large carnivores. We took a moment to admire the big cats whilst they were just lying lazily next to the tree. Lions are related to house cats and can sleep up to 20 hours in a day. A big male lion can easily weigh up to about 230Kgs, so it’s hard to believe that they would sleep that long and still be able to maintain themselves through hunting and eating, and also then do their rounds in marking territory almost on a daily basis.

These lazy cats were just starting to enjoy their nap when suddenly we noticed that not far from the lions, (in fact about 20 meters from them) under another tree there were two White Rhinos sleeping. The two teenage Rhinos had taken the shady comfort of the tree for an afternoon sleep, but were awoken by our vehicle approaching the plains. These gigantic mammals were obviously quite exhausted from the afternoon’s heat from the sun and were relaxing, completely oblivious to the fact that there are some Lions sleeping a mere 20 meters away from them. It seems the Lions were aware of the Rhino, and were not at all concerned about taking a rest so close to them. They must have entered the area whilst the Rhinos were already snoring underneath the tree. Typical of the big cats, not worrying about the potential danger, fearing nothing and deciding a rest was more important. We sat in anticipation as to what might happen between these two ‘Big Five’ animals being so close to one another. This was a chance encounter of two of the most dangerous animals in the bush.

The Rhinos started lifting their heads to see what was happening around them, and with this they might have caught the scent of the Lions in the area. These large herbivores have poor eyesight but have a good sense of smell and hearing. The White Rhino can weigh up to about 2 tons, and run up to 40kms/hour. To be trampled by the Rhino is the last thing the Lions would want. As we sat in anticipation we realised there was a third Lion under the tree next to the other two, another lioness. Lying flat, the cat was almost completely camouflaged with the grass.

The heavy-weight mammals quickly came to their feet having picked up the scent of the Lions, and what transpired next was quite memorable. It’s very seldom that Lions would try to take down a Rhino, as it can be quite the task to bring down such a large mammal with a thick skin. It would have to be quite a large, confident pride to even consider such an act because of the consequences and injuries that can result from taking on these massive animals.
The Rhinos immediately changed their stance and started snorting and warning each other that the Lions are nearby. Their tails were up and curled, a clear warning sign, and ears raised facing directly at the Lions. They took a defensive stance and started a fast paced walk towards the Lions after noticing their presence.

The Lions were now a little irritated, showing it with their tails flicking up and down from the ground, realising the Rhinos are now aware of their presence. They now have to give up their sleep and position to avoid getting trampled. The two females, knowing better, quickly got up and moved away. However, the male Lion was a bit more stubborn; he slowly got up and turned his head to look at the on-coming Rhino and gave them a bit of a growl. This had no effect on the Rhinos as they now started trotting towards the large cat. Realising he doesn’t have much of a chance, the Lion flattened his ears as if in submission to the large beast, and then he jogged off into the bush to join the females.

 

On the vehicle, watching on, we were in awe and enjoyed every minute. The Rhinoceros stood their ground and wagged their tails in celebration. What a wonderful experience it was to see these two beautiful beasts interact. We were left with our jaws dropped as we returned to camp. It is quite a rare sighting to see two of the big 5 in one place at the same time and to see how they engage with one another.

Ranger Jones
Shambala Private Game Reserve


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