Uganda 16th Feb: UCF and lions, lions, lions

We got to spend yet more time with Jimmy from UCF today, but in Murchison Falls, rather than Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Yet again he showed us his knowledge, skills and enthusiasm for his work. He really is truly inspiring.

We spent the morning (another very early start, but worth it in every way) tracking a couple of prides of lions in a way I have never done before. It gave a real insight into the way they work. The first group were simply roaming around their territory looking for a last opportunity for a meal. I hadn’t appreciated the fact that the vast majority of successful hunts are done at night, or that there is only a small window of opportunity first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening during daylight, especially in the dry, hot season we’re now in.

The group (1 fully mature female and 3 sub-adults; 2 females and a male) roamed around, splitting up and coming back together. Whenever they came back together, they would bump heads or make similar greetings and I was once again struck by the large social element to their lives.

They located a very large group of cob, but were spotted pretty quickly. The cob all warned each other and the whole heard seemed to line up watching these powerful, prowling predators. The cob actually moved towards the lions, so they could be sure to keep them in sight. The lions disdainfully walked along side them until they spotted an unwary cob sat away from the herd. Then the hunt was on.

One of the group, the adult female I think, started stalking the cob and approaching very slowly. Unfortunately, the young male quickly overtook her and was noticed by the cob almost immediately. The lion gave chase, but it was pretty futile and the cob escaped quickly.

We thought that was more than enough for the day, but Jimmy then found another group (an adult female and 4 sub-adults; 3 females and a male) who had had a successful hunt and were in the middle of eating their full.

There was clearly a hierarchy in the pride and when we arrived it was almost time for the 2 low ranking females to tuck in. When the smallest female got her chance, she grabbed a leg and ran off with it. The male then gave chase, with renewed interest and almost got it back, but the female decided to climb into a small palm tree so she would be left in peace. It all reminded me so much of children and once again, taught me that there are enormous amounts of personality in these animals. You certainly shouldn’t anthropomorphise, but boy, you underestimate them at your peril!

It was nothing short of an exceptional experience that was a massive privilege to get to spend time with these animals, in this way. There is absolutely no doubt this will turn into the tent-pole piece for the exhibition and will probably improve my art for years to come.

Thank you Jimmy!

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