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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Night Moves

Air Date: Week of

The hunt begins. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

When the sun sets in Africa, a pride of lions relies on more than just sight to communicate. Living on Earth’s Explorer-in-Residence Mark Seth Lender tells of how African lions who hunt together trade their unique roars amid the nighttime hours.


CURWOOD: On the African savannah we might think the lion is king, or queen, but our explorer in residence Mark Seth Lender says it’s actually much more complicated than that.

LENDER: On the equator Night swallows the sun. Throughout Day sun lingers, hardly seeming to move at all. Then, the steep angle of descent. All at once. From Heat to Cool of Dark in a quarter of an hour.

An African Lion hunts at dusk. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Even at the narrow angle that now obtains the lioness would rather be somewhere else. She yawns. And yawns again. And stands up. And stretches, all the way out. And changing places barters what heat remains for shade. She walks with her eyes closed, blinks, lies down and shuts her eyes again. Her day’s work will start only when the last glow vanishes and blackness rules. She and her sisters. The ones who do the killing.

Two males plunk themselves down nearby, side by side, their manes only a suggestion like the facial hair of teenage boys. They rub muzzles and one grooms the other with his rough pinkish-purple tongue. Housecats, except for the size of their paws. As sometimes occurs, they will prove the exception to the female prowess that governs the fate of the pride. They will become hunting partners for life, as formidable as anything or anyone out there. They hold back their claws, and wait.

The hyena waits, and watches. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Finally the tree frogs start. They are the ones who decide Night has begun. It is a sound like small high bells but loud. The spotted hyena who camp nearby take this as their downbeat. Whuup! Whoooooo-up! Whatever they are after stands little chance.

The leopard roars, the volume turned down but more than enough to make the point and he is very close.

The pride heads out…

A black-backed jackal barks.

And now, off somewhere in the open plain beyond the trees, now at last the lions begin. A deep huffing cough, Errrrauuh, Errrauuh, Errrr – rah, ah, ah, ah… It is hard to figure out exactly where its coming from and that’s the point of it. Only the lions and the lionesses know. And the hunted in their panic will run right into one or the other of them.

A lioness lets out a big yawn. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

Late into the night, the jackal goes on barking and barking…

CURWOOD: Mark Seth Lender is Living on Earth’s explorer in residence. For more, including photos, go to our website LOE.org.



Read Mark Seth Lender's Field Note on his essay "Night Moves"

Mark Seth Lender's Website

Special thanks this week to Donald Young Safaris


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