The thrill of being in the heart of the wilderness is unmatched. This land ignites a sense of wonder in the soul that is inescapable; an immersive experience that engages the senses in a profound way. Ishara is intertwined with the rugged grandeur of the natural world, making it a place where dramatic stories can occur at any moment.
The primal call of the wilderness can sometimes catch you unexpectedly. As dawn beckoned a few days ago, I was awoken by the deep roaring of lions, accompanied by continuous alarm calls from baboons in the trees surrounding us. When you live in the Mara, you get accustomed to hearing the stories of the night, piecing them together into a coherent narrative as you lay in darkness. I listened keenly, unable to pinpoint just how far they were. Sound travels across the stillness of night and lion roars often travel vast distances. My pulse accelerated as the roars continued rattling through the atmosphere. It intensified progressively, sending vibrations through the ground, and before I knew it I could feel the presence of a lion panting heavily right outside my tent. My heart raced and I jolted out of bed, rushing to get a better view. A male lion sprinted past, seemingly fleeing the wrath of more dominant males. A mixture of fear, excitement, and curiosity gripped me. Perhaps it was a territorial conflict, I wondered. Where were the others?
Being a lion enthusiast, I felt compelled to follow and identify these cats. I quickly grabbed my camera, alerted a few others, hopped into a Land Cruiser, and drove towards the main reception. There he was, seated on the road and in plain sight: a young, powerful male, looking somewhat lost, calling his brothers. He seemed overcome with angst, scanning the thicket attentively. He suddenly got up and began trotting away from camp. We followed and photographed him in the gorgeous golden light as he ran past the waterhole and towards the vast Posee plains.
We were exhilarated to witness this from the very heart of our own camp, but this was just the beginning of a hair-raising experience. A quick glance towards the treeline revealed two other males of similar age, running steadily towards the open grasslands with a sense of urgency. I could feel the intensity as their short blonde manes swayed in the wind. The two lions were heavily salivating and had scars on their rear ends. We identified the trio as Lekijana, Kijana, and their Rongai partner, who were the younger brothers of Olobor and Oloshipa — the dominant Black Rock males who control one of the largest territories in the Mara.
About a kilometre away, two large males were in pursuit — the infamous Salas boys, Osapuk and Orkitok, their hostile roars signaling deep rage as they relentlessly chased the intruders. Seeing the two powerful juggernauts advance through the plains with malicious intent was a marvel to behold. Their dominance and bravado drove the younger males away. The Salas boys were prepared for battle, and the young males had no choice but to retreat.
Lekijana and his coalition are striving to make their mark on the Mara and establish themselves amidst the hostility of lion politics. Most nomadic lions prefer to keep their heads low and avoid confrontation, but these young males have opted for defiance. Each day their confidence grows, and it is incredible to see them challenge the Salas boys, one of the most powerful coalitions in the Mara controlling the Topi and Rekero prides.
This is not the first time these two coalitions have clashed. They first confronted each other about two months ago when the Salas boys chased their rivals from Rhino Ridge to the Rongai area, a distance of over 15 kilometres. After the long chase, the larger males were worn out, and the younger boys saw an opportunity to strike. It was a strategic game, with the younger males hiding their offensive capabilities until the last moment. The sudden shift in momentum caught the Salas boys off-guard, and they began rushing back towards their territory, splitting up in the process. Osapuk found himself surrounded by Lekijana and Kijana, who launched a vicious attack with tooth and claw, punishing him for his insolence. He limped back to his territory with injuries sustained from the encounter with these aggressive young males. To make matters worse, Lekijana has been mating with Rekero pride lionesses and we can see his rivalry with the Salas boys intensifying over the next few weeks.
Fortune favours the brave, and these young males are slowly leaning into their formidable instinct to dominate. With each battle they refine their skills, gaining a better understanding of their rivals’ strengths and weaknesses. These encounters foreshadow that blood will have blood, and our eyes will remain transfixed on these marvels as this game of thrones continues to unfold.
Photo credits: Eric Averdung, Moses Letura