AN EXTRACT ABOUT NOTCH FROM A FEW YEARS AGO
Kali is the most impressive lion in the Maasai Mara, a battle-scarred warrior with a huge black mane and a voice as deep as Pavarotti’s. In his earlier years he was known as Notch because of a wound on the side of his nose, and he is no stranger to the screen, having been filmed by the BBC’s Big Cat Diary team when he belonged to the Bila Shaka pride.
Like Jonathan Scott, the Big Cat Diary co-presenter, I had known this pride since the Seventies. We called them the Marsh Lions, because of the reed beds that lay at the heart of their territory, and I have followed their exploits ever since.
Lions live in a constant state of civil war, and in 2003 Notch and another male had taken over the Bila Shaka pride. The following year his companion was cornered and killed in a fight with three nomadic males from the south, but Notch proved to be a born survivor. Backed by four lionesses with eight cubs to defend, he stood his ground. The nomads moved on and Notch stayed in command until the same trio returned in June 2007 and drove him out with his four sons.
Together they lived the fugitive life of nomads, but by the time the wildebeest migration had arrived in the summer of 2008, Notch’s boys were close to maturity and established themselves on the open grasslands of Paradise Plain. Few can remember such a powerful coalition. Most prides in the Mara are accompanied by just a couple of adult males; but here was a coalition of six tough, full-grown lions hell-bent on carving out a territory of their own. As their confidence grew, Notch and his five young rakehells began to expand their boundaries until soon they were ready to challenge Fang, the snaggle-toothed veteran whose River pride held sway over the rich hunting grounds on the other side of the Mara River. By 2008, although a veteran, Notch was the finest lion in the Mara. He had become the Rooster Cogburn of the African savannah, a cat with true grit. The distinctive scar on his nose had healed and, as the dominant male on Paradise Plain, he had a new identity and a new name: Kali (Swahili for fierce).
Later that year, I flew out to the Mara during Kenya’s post-election troubles and went game driving with Aris Grammaticus, the owner and founder of Governor’s Camp. As we made our way to Paradise Plain, we came upon a magnificent black-maned lion. It was Kali. We stopped the vehicle and almost at once he began to roar. He roared with eyes half closed and muzzle thrust forward as if in deep concentration, forcing out each lungful of breath with such force that it made the air vibrate. Even at rest he had presence enough to quicken the pulse. There, wrapped in a tawny, fly-speckled hide, sprawled over 550ib of latent menace. His yellow canines were the size of my thumbs and, with his mane wrapped around his shoulders like a rug, he exuded an aura of unimaginable violence. Long since perfected in evolutionary terms, big cats live in a kind of parallel universe we have long since forgotten, and I tried to imagine what it must feel like to be a lion. Like me, he would have heard the wind in the grass and the sad cries of wood doves. Did he not feel the sense of pleasure we did on being warmed by the morning sun? Thirst, hunger, aggression and fear; all these sensations we must have shared; but everything else would remain a mystery. All I knew when I looked into his unblinking eyes was that I was in the presence of the lion king…………