The Closest Shave

18 November 2014 | The Mara |

Duncan Butchart gives an exciting account of a lion hunt, an extremely close shave and what must surely be the luckiest little warthog in all the Mara

I can’t remember whether Robert Redford (in the role of Denys Finch-Hatton) was given a shave by Meryl Streep (aka Karen Blixen) in the film ‘Out of Africa’, but it wouldn’t have been as close as the one that a particular warthog experienced one fine morning in the Maasai Mara.

Out in the Land Rover, we’d seen three lionesses from some way off and approached them slowly along the track. As our vehicle rounded the termite mound, the massive tawny cats turned to face us – their amber eyes burning into our own. At such times, one tends to look away, pretending to be interested in something else, but we needn’t have worried and we needn’t have feared. The lions had something other than us on their minds, and in their field of view.

A few hundred metres away a couple of female warthogs were rooting about in a small marsh. They were being courted, if that’s the word, by an amorous boar. This large tusked male was clearly so enamoured with his muddy maidens that he was oblivious to the outside world. The lionesses, I think, knew this.

In a heartbeat, the big cats switched from vigil to hunting mode. They tensed their muscles, folded their bodies to the ground, and then slunk slowly off the termite mound. In a classic pincer movement, two of them went in separate directions, to the left and right, leaving the remaining lioness in the long grass right in front of our vehicle. Our position, unlike that of the warthogs, couldn’t have been better.

For several minutes, the hunters disappeared from our view. The hogs continued to mess about, as hogs do. The lioness closest to us crouched in the grass, staring forward, frozen. Tension filled the air. But then, suddenly and with no warning, pandemonium broke out as the flanking lions rushed the trio of warthogs. The panic-stricken pigs squealed and hit the metal – straight towards us! Never has the phrase ‘high-tailing’ been more appropriate.

With skinny tails raised like the flags of charging horsemen, the warthogs decided that splitting up was the best option. Every hog for itself, it seemed. With the first two cats out of the picture, it was the infatuated male that ran headlong into the waiting lioness. I have absolutely no idea how he evaded her, but in a move so nimble and so nerve-racking he tossed his frame above her paws and spun to the side. Perhaps his trotters threw mud in her eyes, perhaps the ground was too soft, but in an Olympian sprint, he evaded her and the two others that had by now rejoined the chase. From our vantage point, we could see the entire show but the lions soon tired and gave up. In a final burst, the boar emerged into a clearing then reeled around to see his pursuers retreating.

My own heart was still thumping as the heavy-breathing lions returned to their termite mound. They were clearly exhausted, but not so the lucky yet still lustful hog. The rush of adrenaline might even have spiked his libido, for he had no sooner rejoined the two females than he had mounted one. I wonder if the mother of the resultant piglets ever made them aware of just how fortuitous their existence was.


AUTHOR: Duncan Butchart

Duncan Butchart is an all-round naturalist who has worked in conservation and ecotourism projects in eleven African countries. He has authored and illustrated several books on wildlife and has written numerous popular articles for periodicals such as ‘Travel Africa’ and ‘African Birding’. In 2014, he received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of the Witwatersrand for his interactive work with African safari guides and his contribution to the conservation of vultures and other species. He never goes anywhere without his camera, notepad or sketchbook, relaying his observations through illustrated articles and blog postings.

karen Bullen
November 18, 2014

Lovely story Duncan – thanks for sharing. Miss you guys here and would love you to write something for ‘our’ favourite mag!!!

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