Linkwasha Diaries: A Eland Calf Lost by his Herd

Your Guide to Africa

Our Collective

Joe Hanly


The sunken hide at the pan in front of Linkwasha provides the stage for an endless and fascinating parade of wildlife – and its accompanying drama. Camp Manager Joe Hanly takes a breather from his busy operational duties to share a poignant sighting…




Shortly before the sun stretched to its highest point, before the searing heat reached its peak, a herd of eland sauntered out of the shade and to the waterhole for a quick drink, joining the handful of waterbuck that had been there all morning. Despite their thick coats, the waterbuck seemed spirited, energetic, lucid. Unlike the eland, moving with heavy, laboured steps, their bodies exhausted from walking long distances in the unrelenting heat and the stress of dwindling resources. In amongst the herd, numbering close to 100, was the nursery, where the younger members gathered, protected by the adults. One of the youngsters, though, was off by himself, playing at the back where the bigger bulls roamed.



Carefree in the bush can often be careless. And so it was, later in the day as the sun began to set. The eland herd had moved away from camp and were now at Scott’s Pan. The same playful calf was brazenly distanced from the herd; with the added chaos of the late afternoon elephant traffic, the next series of events were as predictable as they were inevitable. In the confusion, the eland calf followed a herd of elephant away from its own. The eland herd left the waterhole, wandering off into the forest, oblivious to the missing calf. Realising his error, the calf raced back to the waterhole, but through the masses of elephant he could not find his herd. Just like that, the calf was lost. Forgotten.



Watching the unfolding drama from the treeline periphery was Nqwele, the dominant male lion in the Linkwasha concession. Despite being the pride male of two separate prides, this afternoon he was alone. As with the rest of the game, the heat was taking a toll on his energy levels; he was sitting in the shade, resting, seemingly inattentive. His deep and heavy breathing was occasionally interrupted by a toothy, protracted yawn and a stolen glance through one half-opened eye towards the waterhole a few hundred metres away. For the most part, nothing piqued his interest. Nothing, until the eland calf and its unfortunate mistake.



Nqwele did not hesitate, his lethargy vanished in an instant, revealing a lethal hunter, eyes locked on his prey: the disoriented eland. Opportunities are fleeting, and he acted decisively, approaching the scene with speed and stealth. His movement sparked mayhem among the elephant, their ear-splitting warnings cutting across the open vlei, causing panic among the other animals within earshot. The young eland, too, sensed the danger, turned and fled through a herd of elephant leaving the waterhole. By this stage Ngwele was just behind him, though he too had to weave between the elephants, distressed to see him running towards them. The older females raced towards him to chase him away, slowing him down briefly. But the lion’s target was set, and nothing was going to stop him.



He caught up with the eland, and with one flick of his powerful paw knocked the calf to the ground; in a moment he was on top of it, gripping it in his jaws. As Nqwele lay there panting, the elephants – now gathered tightly together to protect their young – menacingly approached him. After a couple of charges, they succeeded in chasing him away from the fatally injured calf. With Nqwele catching his breath a short distance away, the elephant herd formed a protective circle around the eland, touching, nudging and sniffing it with their trunks, as if to check its condition and offer comfort. Nqwele’s strength and precision had overwhelmed the calf, however, and there was no chance of it getting back to its feet. Still, the elephant herd did not leave it alone. It was at least twenty minutes before they accepted that the calf’s fate was sealed, and the matriarch turned away, flapping her ears at Nqwele, and leading her family back into the forest.


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