Republic of South Africa

Two Lions Digest Their Morning Meal in Kruger National Park, Republic of South Africa

We’re cruising down one of the main trails early in the morning in Kruger National Park. On game drives thus far, all of the big five have been seen and photographed. What I’ve started to realize, however, is that no two excursions are the same around here.

After a ten minute delay, while a herd of Cape Buffalo trudges across the path in front of us, we proceed on for about another fifteen minutes. Then without speaking, Jophet, our tracker, raises his arm indicating that Matt, our guide and driver, should stop our jeep. Pointing to our right in plain sight are two male lions sprawled out under several trees. One has his eyes open while the other appears to be sleeping. It is early in the morning and not that hot yet. What is with this behavior?

The answer to this question lies about two hundred yards west of our current location. Our awake male lion slowly rises and begins to saunter to a nearby open area. Keeping very quiet, Matt starts the Jeep and follows the lion maintaining a safe distance. Within a matter of minutes, the lion stops and stares. He sets his sight on a group of vultures in the process of decimating the remains of a warthog kill. The vultures catch a glimpse of the lion, and within seconds fly speedily to a nearby tree.

Matt explains to us the likely chain of events that clarifies what we have seen. He points to a mid-size hole in the ground, the presumed site in which the lions attacked and killed a warthog. The lions must have devoured the majority of the warthog, and then laid down to digest their meal in the opening where we first saw them. The vultures were taking care of the remains; the parts of the warthog the lions felt were not worth eating.

There is no question that lions are king around here in Kruger National Park. Vultures are scavengers and quite ugly in my opinion. Warthogs appear to me to be sitting ducks, wondering when they will become someone’s morning meal.

A Leopard Kill Becomes Hyena Dinner, Kruger National Park, Republic of South Africa

As dawn breaks, we are motoring through some well recognizable trails in Kruger National Park. Matt, our guide and the driver of our open-air jeep, is proceeding at the direction of our tracker, Jophet, who is perched upon a seat that protrudes out from the front of our vehicle. Jophet says very little. Instead, with eyes glued to the trail, searching for fresh tracks laid down by various animals, he points left, then right, sometimes inducing Matt to plow through virgin brush, hot on the trail of whatever animal has been in the area recently. Matt tells us that Jophet has been a tracker for 30 years; he knows what he is doing.


After traveling several miles, the sun creeping up ever so slowly, Jophet raises his hand, and Matt stops the jeep. He whispers to us, “There is a leopard over there on the left. He is eyeing a group of impalas several hundred yards away.” Transfixed, we watch as the leopard steals surreptitiously around the periphery, waiting to pounce when the time is right to obtain his morning meal. Before he can make his move, however, the impalas have sensed the leopard’s presence, and speed with grace and urgency out of the leopard’s purview. They are safe for now but will be on the lookout for the next predator to come calling.


Our leopard appears undeterred. He goes back to retrieve a bush back kill that he has stashed away in a tree. This must have occurred recently, as very little of the carcass has been eaten. We watch as he carries the corpse in his teeth, presumably to an area where he will be able to consume it.

Sometimes the best-laid plans fail to materialize. The leopard does not get more than 50 yards along the path, when all of a sudden, he freezes. After several seconds, which is apparently how long it takes him to consider his options, he drops the bush back and scrambles out of sight. Matt focuses our attention approximately 50 yards to the right, where no less than a hungry hyena has come on the scene. We’re told that in the game reserve, there is a pecking order amongst the wildlife. Leopards are unable to adequately defend themselves against the brawnier hyenas, one of their natural predators.


While the leopard appears sleek and elegant, especially in his normal habitat, the hyena looks to me to be a brute. He grabs the bush back carcass, carries it to a secluded spot, and proceeds to devour it. With a surgeon’s precision, he dissembles the poor bush back, not sparing any part of the cadaver. There are 2 exceptions from what I can tell. The bush back was female and apparently pregnant. The fetus is removed, and not touched again. The entrails are apparently not very appetizing and are also left on the side.


Despite being mesmerized by what we are seeing, Matt points his finger towards a ledge that hovers over this scene of gluttony. Perched on the edge of the precipice, our original leopard stands motionless, watching the hyena gorge himself on what could have been his next meal.

The lesson for today is that the animal kingdom has a hierarchical chain of command. Impalas and bush backs have it tough. Leopards are crafty predators, but no match for famished hyenas. As for this human, a vegetarian lunch today would be a welcome choice.