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Lionesses versus jackals in the Kalahari

The five lionesses were fast asleep, the skin on their bellies taunt having gorged on the oryx they had just killed. A large number of jackals were in the vicinity of the lionesses, some sleeping, some tentatively approaching the kill hoping for a bite to eat.

We were travelling in two cars, communicating with radios and after watching the sleeping lionesses we decided to move on. Just as we turned on the engines, a strange noise filled the air. It was the eerie wail of several jackals, almost sounding like they were frightened. The lionesses whipped up and began dashing in different directions. Two raced after the jackals which had been trying to approach the kill while the other lionesses sprinted in separate ways. One darted between our cars, crossing the road, kicking up sand as she kept a steely look on a jackal heading up the dune. She was clearly displeased, perhaps at having her sleep disturbed or having to defend her kill.

On the left, a lioness lay crouched on the ground with her eye fixed on something not visible to us.

We rolled forward just in time to see her leap in the air and catch something. It was a very young jackal pup. The lioness lay next to the tree where she caught the pup and held it between her paws for a few minutes. She then picked it up for the middle of the belly and slowly and very deliberately sank her teeth into the soft skin. She held the dead pup between her paws for a while before standing up and then pawing it tenderly.

The other lionesses came over and in an almost macabre dance routine, each one sniffed the dead pup and pawed it tenderly before moving away.

It was a distressing scene and I keep wondering why it happened. Why did the pup decided to come out of its den at that moment and why did the lioness kill the pup? They did not eat it, they just left it there. When we returned the next day, the pup’s body had disappeared and the lionesses were back at their kill.

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