Imagine a Lion Country

Tales from the Bush

No African vista whispers ‘lion country’ better than the wide open grassy vleis and shady tree-lined dry river banks located in the wild north-west of Hwange National Park.

The numbers bear it out – researchers have long held that the Robins Section, as this part of the park closest to Victoria Falls is known, has the highest density of lions in Hwange. It’s no surprise, because  this area is also famous for its huge herds of 1,000 or more Cape buffalo, which ranks high on Panthera leo’s list of favourite meals. The current king lion of this un-touristy corner of Hwange is a fierce looking veteran named Scar. First spotted by researchers around 2019, in the centre of the reserve, Scar made his way some 60 kilometres north to the area around the Big Toms viewing hide in search of a pride of his own. Scar took on the reigning monarch, Vusi, about a year later and deposed him. Researchers tracking Vusi noticed his collar was stationary for too long, and he was found dead. The Big Toms pride of 14 lions now had a new dominant male.

Scar the Lion - Hwange National Park (2)

Big Toms, and nearby Little Toms, are hides overlooking a narrow winding tributary of the larger Deka River which, along with a number of natural seeps, provide year-round water to this part of Hwange. The Robins area, which includes Hideaways Nantwich Lodge, is home to the largest variety of species of Hwange’s three regions. It’s notably home to rare antelope species including sable, roan, reedbuck, tsessebe and eland. The more open country around Nantwich is also emerging as one of the best places to see cheetah in the reserve. Researchers first noticed that scar, named after a wound on his face, had a milky eye, caused by a cataract. Over time his eye worsened – it’s now thought he is blind in one eye – but that hasn’t stopped him seeing off challengers and protecting his pride.

While Scar and his females and cubs lead a traditional life, probably aided by the fact that a solar-powered pump keeps water flowing and plains game present at Big Toms year-round, lion dynamics vary in other parts of the park. Elsewhere in this sector are prides where the lionesses mostly call the shots, without the presence of a full-time dominant male. Instead, nomadic coalitions of males service a number of prides, calling them their own. One such family is Percy’s Pride, a grouping of five females and their cubs. It’s thought that two males who were pushed out of Scar’s pride have been mating with the Percy females. Percy’s Pride is named after Percy Durban Crewe, a failed prospector and confidant of the 19th century king of the Matabele (Ndebele) people, Lobengula. Percy was granted Nantwich Farm (the site of the current lodge), and lived there with his Ndebele lover, Vuvuka, until his death in 1931.

The neighbouring farm was owned by an eccentric pioneer of conservation, Herbert Robins, who had bought two existing farms, Little Toms and Big Toms. Robins, an ageing bachelor and astronomer who greeted visitors to his farm while dressed in his pyjamas, was an early believer that people would prefer to pay money to see and photograph lions and other big game, than hunt them. Both Percy and Herbert Robins’ farms were incorporated into Hwange National Park after their deaths. Percy rests in his grave on a hill overlooking Nantwich and the rolling grassy vleis around the lodge – lion country.  

Written by: Tony Park. Author of 21 African thriller novels.

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