Buffalo Thrills and Lion Kills

by on September 15, 2010

in Guests, Wildlife

In today’s shallow and materialistic world we have forgotten the meaning of loyalty.  Loyalty within the African Bush runs thick, and every now and then as a guide we are allowed to witness such acts – acts that leave both the guide and guest absolutely speechless and at awe.

The Sparta Pride has been on the run for some time now – running to keep the remaining sub-adults out of the Mapogo’s reach. During this time, two of the three lead lionesses strategically split from the pride, to sire the young of the Mapogo and in doing so keep their previous litters safe. The result was that the pride was left to fend for themselves and as such the young needed to grow up, and grow up fast.

Lions chased off kill by buffalo

Lions chased off kill by buffalo

In a very short period of time, the pride’s young have proven themselves to be extremely skillful at buffalo hunting, and this sighting was an example of an immaculate execution of such a hunt. Without the experience of the 2 adult lionesses, the Sparta Pride has been forced to rely on the power of the young males in the pride to provide.

Having ingeniously split the large herd of buffalo into bulls in the east and cows and calves to the west, the young males could go about isolating and hunting one of the calves in the herd, without the concern of the retaliation of the big bulls.  For the next two and a half hours eighteen guests witnessed in broad daylight an immense and draining battle between two of the most powerful African beasts.

In a dramatic show of loyalty, the cows repeatedly attempted to chase the feeding pride off the carcass, invoking countless aggressive responses from the lions charging after the fleeting herd. This ding dong battle continued for some time, before the bulls, finally, returned stampeding towards the pride, which was now wedged between the bulls and the cows.

Lion killing buffalo with herd attacking

Lion killing buffalo with herd attacking

A young male was taught a valuable lesson in buffalo interaction, narrowly escaping disaster twice. The first mistake was climbing a flimsy bush in an attempt to escape the enraged bovines. On this occasion he managed to slip through the herd unscathed, and hid on top of a termite mound – his second and biggest mistake. Completely surrounded by the massive beasts, the panic stricken lion was flicked in the air and was trampled before miraculously squeezing out from under the hooves of the 600kg beasts to safety.

Lion growling at buffalo attacking

Lion growling at buffalo attacking

The herd returned to the carcass in an emotionally charged scene as the mother of the calf desperately tried to piece the body together, and encourage the young calf to rise to its feet. This continued for some time before, and a bull flicked the carcass in the air in a last desperate attempt to bring the body back to life. There are no words to quantum the loyalty of buffalo.

Buffalo tossing buffalo calf into the air

Buffalo tossing buffalo calf into the air

The sad realization finally set in, and every member of the herd slowly moved past the lifeless calf to pay their respects. And as the cows cast their last hopeful glances back from a distance towards the calf lying alone in Shingalana clearing, one can only imagine the grief experienced as they watched the lions feed.

Filmed by: Bill Bradock (Londolozi Guest) and Freddy Ngobeni
Written and Photographed by: Mike Miller and
Graeme Marais

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26 comment on “Buffalo Thrills and Lion Kills”

    Liz says:

    Never stops amazing me the way buffalo will fight back! The lion was very lucky to get away! So sad to see the buffs trying to revive the young calf … and then seeing their acceptance of its passing. Extraordinary sighting – thank you so much for the amazing footage that we can all share and look at in wonderment! Thank you Londolozi

    Nix Illes says:

    Fantastic stuff! Thank you! It’s really exciting, and engaging to hear the story from both the buffalo and the lions perspective- so often with wildlife documentaries on TV you only get a one sided view of things.

    sheryl says:

    wow awesome pics and video!!!

    Sheila Patel says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this incredible video! Great to see the loyalty and fighting spirit of the buffalos!

    peggy says:

    Amazing and sad at the same time!

    Morty says:

    Wow, that was very touching. Unbelievable.

    Rich says:

    It is true that documentaries do show one side of the story. I have my own biases towards lions, however it is always interesting to see the lengths that the prey species go to so as to ensure their survival. I am particularly intrigued with the loyalty that buffalo have towards their own species. It is as strong as the loyalties I have seen in pride structures amongst lions.

    Nix Illes says:

    I can’t help but be a little intrigued by the buffalo… A couple of years ago I saw a documentary (I believe it was by Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek) that illustrated the buffs apparent democratic social structure via visual communication…They are certainly more complex than people maybe give them credit for…And being such strong, brave and often terrifying animals (when wounded) they frequently seem to be the central characters in the drama of many a bush story. Are there any rangers at Londolozi that are currently focusing on studdying the buffalo at all?

    Graeme Marais says:

    This video begs the question, do buffalo feel emotion as we as humans understand it? There seem to be a number of symptoms of grief. Initial denial, then anger and finally acceptance.

    Rich says:

    Nix, agreed. Buffalo are far more complex than we imagine. I also believe that the non-visual communication forms an integral part of how they behave. Body language is a huge communication point amongst animals, and specifically in herd structures I believe body language has a ripple effect on the herd as the follow the leader so to speak.

    As for being the central characters of drama in bushveld stories, I think that this is so simply because they have the propensity and aggression to be able to fight back. Very few other creatures challenge their predators (lions) as buffalo do. There are many cases were buffalo win the battles and lions end up dead. This is not a battle that will ever go away. Sometimes the lions will succeed, other times the buffalo. Hence the aptly titled Dereck & Beverly Joubert film “Relentless Enemies”.

    Finally to answer your question, there are no rangers conducting buffalo studies, however each and every one would have spent a large amount of time observing this species and as such would have their own individual opinions based on them.

    Rich says:

    Graeme, good question and in my personal opinion the answer is yes. Regardless of the symptoms of grief, I believe that in demonstrating their loyalty to the herd and the survival of one another these buffalo in turn are demonstrating their bias towards their species.

    I have witnessed cows (in particular) take the lead when their calves are being attacked and have seen the rest of the herd contribute to counter attack.

    Buffalos are naturally aggressive animals, and this is enhanced once they are under persecution. This aggression is also an emotions which can be heightened.

    Let me know what you think of my points as I believe this to be an interesting debate regardless of what your position is….

    Nix Illes says:

    Hi Rich,

    Thanks for that, will look up the docu ‘Relentless Enemies’ on the web.

    Charles Marais says:

    It is sad that most of us have to witness the real world via the internet whilst sitting in our sealed airconditioned offices in the cities. What an awesome spectacle of nature

    Rich says:

    Insightful and true Charles. All the more reason to visit the wilderness where we are watching these spectacles in reality. Thanks for your comments.

    Richard says:

    Mike what an awesome experience. It is touching even to read about it, I can’t even begin to imagine the emotion charged atmosphere on the day.

    Nix Illes says:

    Ha! There is a copyright block on ‘Relentless Enemies’ being shown on the web here in the UK, sod’s law!…Instead I found an old, but interesting article on decision-making for large groups of animals that might interest you all too! http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A06E3DC1531F937A25752C0A9659C8B63

    Rich says:

    Very interesting article Nix, its always fascinating to see how the dynamics of animal groups function. Interesting to see that the female buffalo control the direction of the group by looking in a specific direction. I always thought that the dominant bulls at the front of the herd (The Pathfinders) were the ones who set the course. Thanks for the article.

    Nix Illes says:

    Hey Rich, yeah have seen a few papers on how the buff’ communicate via body language http://wikisum.com/w/Prins:_Ecology_and_behavior_of_the_African_buffalo seems to sum it up really well. As this is just info from the internet I’d take it with a pinch of salt, of course, but certainly proves for interesting discussion and prompts further observation…this also could potentially lead onto a very colourful discussion regarding male vs female directional skills!

    Rich says:

    Haha too true, and here I was thinking that it was always the males who took the lead….

    I still get chills when watching the lion kill video. Our friends cannot believe what we witnessed. Londolozi was THE BEST lodge – just perfection. Mike, Graeme, Freddy and Milk made our bush drives unforgettable. Thank you to all! We will return.
    Sheila and Bill Braddock

    Rich says:

    Hi Sheila and Bill, glad that you got onto the blog to see the finished story that we put up. It must be quite something to have witnessed the event and now see it being replayed online. Also good to hear that you had such fantastic drives with Mike, Graeme, Freddy and Milk. Keep on filming and looking forward to seeing you again soon. Please keep in touch and keep visiting our blog. Rich

    Bill Braddock says:

    A special thanks to Freddy and his steady hand. The film credit belongs to Freddy. Thanks for a once in a lifetime experience.

    Freddy, I will pass on the cameraman offer from Hollywood. Keep my day job!
    Bill Braddock

    Nan and Jim says:

    Thanks for sharing this video. What a fabulous trip ! We want to go.

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