Every Game Reserve has it’s heroes / icons / special creatures, all of whom to a lesser or greater extent leave their mark on us as humans. We have had the incredible fortune to get to know some of them a little – their history, their ways, their spirit.
This newsletter is dedicated to two of the greatest icons of Madikwe, who sadly are no more…….
The Batia Brothers
Batia kills Buffalo, kills Batia.
Our time in Madikwe goes back much further than when we became the proud owners of The Bush House in 2006. Prior to this, we had been fortunate enough to spend many great weekends in the Reserve, going back to 1996.
In those early days, the ruling coalition of male lions in the Reserve were the Ophir brothers (Stevie & John), as they were known. Stevie, affectionately named after Stevie Wonder, as he was blind in one eye. A new coalition was to be introduced to boost the lion population of the Reserve and add new genetic material to strengthen the base for the future.
The Batias, who came from Etosha National Park in Namibia, were introduced into Madikwe in January 1996. They were named the Batias after Batia Pan in Etosha, which was where they had been darted for their re-location to Madikwe.
These young lions did not have it all their own way in the early days, but as nature would have it, soon became the dominant force in the Reserve – a Reserve of some 75,000 hectares, which they would dominate and control in total once in their prime.
The Batias, like most Namibian lions, were magnificent specimins – beautiful heads, strong, proud and in their time sired over 60 cubs, many of whom now make up the backbone of the excellent and healthy lion population of Madikwe today.
So, what happened in early December 2008……
Firstly, we must appreciate that these 2 Lions were now 15 years old, which for Lions living in a totally wild environment is no small achievement, and a testament to their ability to survive and dominate.
Their territory had become smaller as they became older, and many field guides in the Reserve believed that it was only a matter of time before they would be killed by other younger, stronger lions, or simply fade away. We were fortunate, having known the brothers over many years, that the western side of the Reserve where The Bush House is, had become their territory in their senior years, and as a result of this, saw them regularly at our waterhole.
One of the brothers had gone off to the East of the Reserve, for reasons we do not know – maybe to visit an old hunting ground, or in search of female company. He was last seen near the Makanyane concession in mid-December, but has not been seen again.
The other brother, still in our area at the time, died in a titanic battle with a buffalo. What has been established by the Reserve Ecologist is that the two went into battle – the Batia obviously hunting for food, and the Buffalo defending himself. Both died at the site of this battle – the buffalo from injuries inflicted by the lion, and visa-versa.
If there is a “good way” for a proud and once powerful lion to go, this is surely it, not sadly or in a poor way, but fighting another titan of the Big 5, a Buffalo. If you follow wildlife stories on T.V., you will know of the hatred that exists between lions and buffalo, and often, it is not necessarily the buffalo that comes off second best in these encounters.
Well done Mr Batia – we salute you!
Every Field Guide, and many guests who have worked in and visitied Madikwe over the last twelve years will have had some encounter with the Batia brothers. We have had the fortune to experience their power and majesty, and would like to share a couple of these stories with you.
We recall some years back going on drive with a young lady Field Guide, and visiting a sighting at the Lion Boma in the Reserve. The Lion Boma, as it is called, is used by the Park whenever there are animals re-locating either into the Reserve or being moved to other Parks, as a place for them to acclimatise and settle down.
On this particular day, there were several young lions in the Boma awaiting re- location, and on the outside were the Batia brothers, very unhappy that some of their pride members were now behind a fence. We pulled up close to the two boys – for me, a little too close, bearing in mind their disposition.
Whenever you go out on drive, your field guide will go to some lengths to explain to guests that they should stay seated in the vehicle at all times, as an animal will see the vehicle “as a whole”, not the individuals in the vehicle, unless you stand up and break the outline of the vehicle. We did not dare stand up, but as “God is my witness”, the one brother looked into the vehicle, and stared straight into my eyes, only a metre away from us. I will never forget that look and those piercing eyes.
The territorial calling of these brothers literally went right through you and touched every facet of your being. The drink at the “drinks break” on drive just after this spectacular encounter certainly did not touch sides!!
On another occasion, some years later, we were out on drive and looking for the Batia Brothers. Our Guide – Dillon – had asked at the outset of our afternoon journey if there was anything in particular we would like to see. My response, which was standard, was The Batias! They had been sighted in a particular area, and obviously Dillon was keen to find them for us.
Usually, if a Guide needs to look for one of the Big 5 on foot, he would radio another vehicle in the area, and the Guides would go off into the veld on foot as a team, for safety reasons.
Dillon did not feel this was necessary, and leaving us on the vehicle, went on foot to explore. Not a minute later, we heard this almighty roar, followed immediately by a litany of very audible obscenities from Dillon, who seconds later appeared from the veld, coming out backwards, and as white as a sheet.
Dillon explained that as he walked in the veld, not 20 metres from where we had stopped, he saw one of the Batia brothers resting under a thorn bush. What he had not seen was the other brother to his left, who seeing this Guide on foot, launched at him at full speed, only to stop a couple of metres from him with a loud roar.
The situation calmed down fortunately, and Dillon retreated. Nothing that a change of underwear and a stiff drink on us later that evening did not fix!
The memories go on and on, but suffice to say, we appreciate the privellage of experiencing these icons so often over many years.
Their hunting prowess, their domination over all other preditors, their skill and cunning.
“Tsamayang sentle bo-Rra; e nnile tlotlo…” Go well Gentlemen; it has been an honor…..
Gordon & Sue.