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)