The Sparta pride were found snoozing under the shade of a Jackalberry tree in the Dudley Riverbank area. A large herd of buffalo was grazing nearby. As the sun dropped and the evening approached, yawns and stretching from the pride signaled their intentions to move.
They lost no time in heading straight for the buffalo.
Unbelievably it was the sub-adults who lead the hunt against probably their most dangerous adversary.

We had been tracking the Camp Pan male leopard nearby, but his tracks had unfortunately disappeared over our boundary, so we moved instead towards the impending clash of buffalo and lions. I was hesitant to believe anything serious was going to happen, as witnessing a proper take down of buffalo by lions has long been an unrealised dream of mine, and a lot of the time a lion pride will simply snipe around the edges of a herd, waiting a long while for a real opportunity to present itself.

Little did I know that within 5 minutes of arriving on the scene we would be almost a part of the action ourselves.

‘The calm before the storm’ would be the only way to describe the scene as we arrived. The herd was slowly drifting through a beautiful area dotted with Tamboti and Leadwood trees, while behind them, moving swiftly and silently through the golden grass of winter, the Sparta pride were closing in.

Having two of the Majingilane with them I am sure gave them the extra confidence they needed, but it was the young males in the pride who really got the ball rolling. Although still significantly smaller than their mothers, the sub-adult males are growing in size and confidence everyday, and are starting to add value to a hunt, if only on the tactical side of things. We were astonished to see at least three of these young lions literally in and amongst the herd, their tawny coats helping them blend in perfectly with the surrounding grass.

By the time the buffalo realised that their ranks had been infiltrated, the adult lions had also closed up right behind the herd, and it was one young bull that made the crucial error of panicking, running from a relatively harmless sub-adult lion, right into the two big Majingilane males. Right in front of ranger Richard Burman’s vehicle, they slammed into the buffalo’s flank, bringing him down as the rest of the pride raced in. We were approaching from the opposite side of a Tamboti thicket and our view was limited, but as we maneuvered through the dense brush we were confronted by the sight of 11 lions all clamping down on the still-struggling buffalo. The dust was still billowing as the bellows of the buffalo rended the air, his distress call carrying clearly to the rest of the herd.
As the desperate kicks of the bull got weaker and weaker, there were suddenly buffalo all around us. The herd had returned to help their fallen comrade, and within seconds there was a black wall of buffalo bulls not 10 metres from the lions.

The ultimate African standoff.

Fierce growls and angry bellows and snorts were traded before one particularly large buffalo led the charge, barreling straight through the pride, who scattered before him like ninepins.
The charging bull got so carried away that he spun and gored his injured herd-mate, lifting the few-hundred-kilogram body fully off the ground with one flick of his horns.

The lions re-grouped less than 20m away, and as they did so the lead bulls all closed ranks around the injured buffalo, nosing him and sniffing his body, seeming to utter encouragement.

After a few minutes, and to our utter amazement, the bull got unsteadily to his feet. His neck was full of holes from the canines of the Majingilane, his rump had been badly gored, and one of the lionesses had ripped his testicles off, yet he still managed to stagger back into the herd.

As the buffalo moved off the lions moved in to sniff the area around where the bull had lain, but they would not be eating buffalo meat on this night.

The blood they had tasted and the lingering smell of buffalo in the evening air was a harsh reminder to the pride that in the bush, where life and death are so often balanced upon a knife-edge, a miss is as good as a mile.

Written by James Tyrrell
Filmed by James Tyrrell and Daniella Sibbing (Londolozi Guest)

Filed under Guests Wildlife

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

More stories by James


on Lions vs Buffalo
    Arden Zalman says:

    Wish I was there

    Shirley says:

    I can not believe the buffalo lived. That is amazing. I wonder if he is still alive even with all those injuries.

    Judy Guffey says:

    Great video….exciting sighting~

    JP Joubert says:

    Brilliantly written James! Well done boet!

    Rich Laburn says:

    incredible sighting and some amazing footage. Well done JT and Daniella for capturing this on film. rich

    Wendy Hawkins says:

    Wow! What a unbelievable job you have James! A sighting like that is not something that is witnessed by many, so “right place at the right time” I think? Thank you Danielle for sharing that awesome video – you will be able to re-live that for years to come! Thank you James for a stunning write-up!
    I would think that the Buffalo wouldn’t last long & dinner was on the cards for the lions later?

    James says:

    Hi Wendy,

    The pride was actually unsuccessful that evening as they were still tailing the herd the next day. They gave up and moved off in search of easier prey, but managed to bring down a buffalo two days ago in a similar area. Maybe it was the injured one…?


    MJ says:

    What an amazing sighting! Your telling of the encounter is superb and the video is stunning.

    thank you for sharing

    Marc Taback says:

    Wow ! It’s a dream of mine to see lion and buffalo interaction in the bush. Can’t wait to get to Londolozi Tree Camp for 4 x nights from 3 Aug !!

    Rich Laburn says:

    We are really looking forward to having you Marc. Safe travels on your way down to us on the 3rd.

    Rod Dillehay says:

    Wow, amazing and dramatic footage thank you. I have to ask how many meters were you from the kill? It looks like you were only 2-3 meters from the kill.

    It seems the water buffalo were at least as bold as the lions-maybe even more so!

    James says:

    Hi Rob,

    I was filming with a 70-200m lens and a Canon 7D which has a cropped sensor (ie the image looks even more zoomed) so we do look closer to the action than we actually were.
    In reality we were still close, but rather about 15-20m than 2-3m. Ideally we should have been further away but the Tamboti thickets in which the kill took place made it impossible to see anything if we remained outside them.
    Thankfully in a confrontation like this the buffalo and lions are only interested in each other, not in the vehicles.


    Nice report of this amazing report, James πŸ™‚
    Glad to be back!

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