A winter almost never passes at Londolozi without a hippo bull succumbing to injuries sustained in a territorial fight. These gargantuan herbivores are armed with enormous and lethal teeth, and towards the end of the dry season, when space is at a premium and the grazing is scarce, the sound of males fighting provides an almost constant ambience in the night air.
Having a male killed in the summer months is slightly less common, as the rains have usually fallen and there’s more space available in the water bodies, generally meaning less aggression between males. Even so, fights do break out, and a recent altercation in the waterhole near Pioneer camp was, we believe, the cause of the the latest casualty.
His carcass was lying near a waterhole to the north of the Londolozi camps, out in the open, and it wasn’t long before the vultures began to descend. The scent of the carcass was rank on the air, and by nightfall the second wave of scavengers began to arrive in the form of the local hyena population, who drifted in in drips and drabs.
24 hours later and virtually every consumable scrap was gone. Only the bare ribs of the hippo and its leathery skin were left. Despite full bellies and crops, the scavengers were still trying to wring full advantage out of the opportunity, with the hyenas cracking apart the smaller bones and the vultures squabbling over small slithers of meat still attached to the larger pelvic girdle and femurs.
Bare earth surrounded the skeleton where only the day before, green grass had grown. Littered with vulture feathers, it looked like the sandy floor of the Colosseum after the gladiators were done. Ok that might be stretching it a little, but it was still incredible to see how all the vegetation had been scuffed away over 24 hours of conflict between the two iconic scavengers of Africa.
Only the bones of the hippo bull now remain, ironically not even 100 metres from where another hippo bull died in 2013 and was consumed by the Mhangeni pride. With summer properly upon us, the Sand River is steadily filling, as are the major waterholes around Londolozi, and it is likely that the hippo bulls will be given a respite from their territorial concerns, at least until next winter.