It is no secret that the drought is continuing to prevail here at Londolozi. Although it is quite distressing to see conditions deteriorate, this natural process is showing up some new and interesting interactions as animals find new ways to survive and others to thrive. One of the most obvious of these is the continued battles between lions and buffalo. The evenly-matched, intense battles we’ve come to know from these two species are no longer and the tables have most definitely turned in favour of the lions. In the last three weeks, there is one pride in particular that has taught us something remarkable.
As water and grazing becomes more scarce, the buffalo herds are beginning to splinter and small groups can be found dotted throughout Londolozi. This is necessary as the buffalo are being forced to spread out to find resources. One of the results of this though is that the herds are not nearly as proficient at defending themselves against predators as they would normally be. Firstly there are less ears, eyes and noses to sense imminent danger and they are also not nearly as likely to be able to turn on the lions and drive them back because the herds are just not substantial enough. Individually, the buffalo are all much weaker as well due to the prolonged poor grazing conditions.
What the fragmentation of these herds also means is that wherever lions move, they tend to bump into small isolated buffalo groups that trigger their predatory instincts. Despite having full bellies and often just having come off a kill, the opportunistic instinct to hunt takes over and the lions have been repeatedly chasing buffalo even after just having left a carcass. In fact, just the other day, the Mhangeni breakaway pride got up and walked away from a buffalo carcass where about 90% of the meat was remaining. This may seem completely absurd, almost unbelievable but it seems that the lions know how weak the buffalo are at the moment and there is absolutely no pressure to clean up a carcass because other opportunities are so easy to come by.
This pride in particular has been amazing us with their hunting prowess. The Mhangeni Breakways – made up of six young lionesses just over three years in age – have been proving that they are hunting machines. I am fully aware of how weak the buffalo currently are, but a few nights ago, the pride managed to kill three adults in one go! Given their age and experience levels, this is a remarkable feat. In fact it seems that in the space of two weeks this pride has killed 15 buffalo!
It is also incredibly exciting to see that two of these young lionesses are pregnant and now we are almost certain that they will not re-group with their original pride. Because they have not spent much time with the original core pride at all lately, it is highly unlikely that they would risk taking newborn cubs and attempt to integrate them with their mothers and aunts. It seems history is repeating itself as this is basically a carbon copy of how the core Mhangeni Pride formed from the Tsalala Pride in 2013. Spending their time now in central and southern Sparta we are excited by the prospect of having a new, stable pride in the heart of Londolozi.