Written by Brian Jackman
Excerpt taken from The Marsh Lions
Scar was now a magnificent lion. The gaunt and nervous nomad of two years ago had grown into a sleek and self-assured pride male. From his battle-scarred nose to his black tail-tuft he was nearly 10 feet long. The rangy body had filled out and his mane was so thick that it almost hid his ears, a glossy rug of luxuriant tobacco-coloured hair, shot through with auburn glints. He was now in his prime, broad-muzzled, deep-chested, immensely powerful, and his tenure as a resident pride male was reflected in the magisterial, almost insolent swagger of his stride as he rose from the pool and padded into the shade.
Of all the three Marsh males, Scar was the most possessive, the most territorial in his habits. While Brando and Mkubwa often went off together for days at a time, sometimes trying to re-associate with the Miti Mbili lionesses, Scar preferred to stay close to his own pride. He liked the cover of the reed-beds, the shelter of the forest edges. He liked to drink from the same spring-fed pools, to sleep through the incinerating noons under the same shady figs. In his regular patrollings, renewing his scrapes and scent marking his boundaries, he had come to know every inch of his territory. He knew every game trail, every glade and lugga. Sometimes he ranged far out into the open grasslands of Topi Plain, or south beyond the airstrip lugga as far as Rhino Ridge; but his true home was the Marsh. Its familiar sights and sounds and smells reassured him, and he was content to remain there so long as his lionesses continued to use the reed-beds for their kills.
When they were hungry, all three males would converge on a kill. But afterwards, when they rested, it was rare to find them under the same tree. Brando and Mkubwa had always tended to consort together, but Scar seemed quite content to be alone. Perhaps he felt less need to seek alliances. Often, when darkness fell, all three would go their separate ways. One might pick up the scent of a nomadic lioness. Another might be attracted by the sound of hyenas on a kill, or might investigate the roarings of other lions. Their relationship with each other was of the most casual kind, and at times their role as pride masters appeared strangely inconstant and obscure. They were not leaders. Instead, they were content to follow the lionesses and feed off their kills. But their collective presence gave the pride stability and protection, and the fact that there were now three sets of healthy cubs was a measure of their strength.
They were not leaders. Instead, they were content to follow the lionesses and feed off their kills.
Now, bathed in shadow, Scar slept. He lay on his side with his mane rumpled around his shoulders, occasionally stretching to ease the not unpleasant lassitude that seemed to weigh down his limbs. Sometimes his eyes would open and he would look about him; but all he saw was a silence of grass, and the crouching hills beyond. Out on the plains the air quivered and scintillated along the stony ridges. Nothing moved. Everywhere animals rested, seeking refuge from the bludgeoning heat. Each pool of shade held its patient herd of impala. Warthogs withdrew into their burrows. Buffaloes lay in their wallows. Elephants moved deeper into the forest, fanning themselves with flapping ears. Marooned in the hot silence of the open grasslands, giraffes stood motionless beside solitary acacias, and fiscal shrikes called with maddening insistence from the somnolent noontide luggas. Their scolding voices did not disturb the resting lion. Apart from brief and exhausting bouts of mating, most of his days were spent in slumber. Patrolling his territory or following his lionesses were mainly nocturnal activities. He lived from one meal to the next; from the zebra and wildebeest pulled down by his pride, to the sudden violence of his own kills when he was lucky enough to surprise an antelope or bowl over a warthog in the long grass. In between, he slept. He was not lazy. Rather, he conserved his energy, moving only when compelled to do so by hunger, or by sex, or by the need to assert his territorial authority.
Two hours before sunset, a new breeze came sighing over the grass. Scar awoke and lifted his head. As the sun slid down, animals emerged from the shadows and began to feed again. Zebras and topi moved slowly along the horizon. A storm cloud bloomed above the escarpment, bearing rain from Lake Victoria. Above it the sky became an immense apple-green cupola, clear and empty except for the specks of orbiting vultures. The cooling air revived him. Leisurely he stood up and walked out into the plain. The grass enveloped him, closing behind him as he moved through the gently bending stems. He felt the brush of its plumed seed-heads along his flanks, smelled its dry odour crushed beneath his heavy pads as he sniffed at the sharper taints where Thomson’s gazelles had scent-marked individual spikes of grass with special glands on their cheeks. But when he paused to test the wind, lifting his muzzle above the tops of the grasses, he heard the familiar grunting of wildebeest and padded silently towards the fig-tree forest. The trees lay across the lower end of the Marsh in a ragged crescent. Normally they provided excellent cover which enabled the lions to approach the reeds unobserved; but as he slipped through the leafy shadows he was seen by a troop of Sykes’ monkeys. Their coughs of alarm alerted the wildebeest so that, when Scar stepped out into the open, they were already scattering before him in a rush of tossing heads. Panic spread across the Marsh. Birds flew up, crying wildly. Zebras and topi burst from the reeds and splashed to the safety of the open plains. The lion ignored them all. Not until he found a wildebeest trapped in the mud did his body tense with anticipation.
He lived from one meal to the next; from the zebra and wildebeest pulled down by his pride, to the sudden violence of his own kills when he was lucky enough to surprise an antelope or bowl over a warthog in the long grass.
As the dry season advanced, the Marsh had developed treacherous boggy patches. Churned to a thick morass by constant trampling, the shrinking pools had become soft quagmires, and it was all too easy for stampeding wildebeest to blunder into them. Scar was not hungry. He had fed well on the buffalo his lionesses had killed that morning; but the prospect of such an easy meal was too tempting to pass by, and the wildebeest’s frantic struggles only served to sharpen his predatory instincts. He waded forward, submerged to his belly, until he was close enough to reach out a muddy paw and grab the wildebeest by its head. He closed his great mouth over its muzzle, twisting the animal on to its back and holding fast until the twitchings ceased. But the Marsh was reluctant to yield up its treasure. The heavy body had sunk too deep, and Scar’s legs slipped and skidded in the quaking mire as he struggled to haul it from the mud. The muscles bulged under his mane, but still the wildebeest would not budge, and in the end he gave up and left it for the scavengers. There would be other wildebeest; and, as long as he remained with his pride, there would always be lionesses to kill for him. Marsh ooze dripped from his jowls as he strode into the plain.
In the dying light his mud-caked body was black and full of menace. For a moment he paused, the rug of his mane billowing against the sky. His roar crashed through the falling dusk and boomed across the Marsh. Bushbucks at the forest edges heard him a mile away, and moved off in alarm. Then the grass closed around him and he was gone.
Want to read more? Check out The Marsh Lions: The Story of an African Pride, by Brian Jackman and Jonathan and Angela Scott: