A few days ago, the weather report was bleak. Days of hard rain were forecast. I was driving the Fuller family from LA, and having travelled half way around the world to come on their first ever safari, they were determined not to let a little rain daunt them. So after our first evening drive (which was thankfully conducted in beautiful weather), we decided that no matter what the conditions were in the morning, we were going to head out anyway.
It was indeed raining when we left camp at 5:30am, but excitement levels were high as we set out to look for the Mhangeni Pride. They had been seen the day before a few kilometres from camp with relatively full bellies, so we guessed they would not have gone too far. The rain made things a bit more difficult, washing away some of the older tracks, but it was not long before Like Gumede and Trevor Mcall-Peat had picked up the trail, heading west towards the grasslands. The tracks cut off the road about a kilometre from where they had first been found, and while Mike Sithole and I tried to establish the exact direction they had taken, Like, in an inspired moment, instructed Trevor to drive another kilometre to the west to check out an old quarry to see if the lions had passed by. A few minutes later, Trevor’s voice came over the radio informing us that not only were the whole pride exactly where Like had thought they might be, but all four of the Majingilane were with them as well. This was a wonderful bonus, and we lost no time in making our way there, the rain still pelting down.
More miserable lions I had never seen; all soaking wet and cowering under what little shelter a cluster of gwarrie bushes could give them, the pride was not in high spirits. We were getting a little chilly ourselves, and figured we’d watch the lions for a short while and then head home to get warm and dry.
Mike Sithole’s voice came suddenly from the back of the vehicle, “Buffalo.”
Swivelling in our seats, we could just see the front runners of a herd of about 50 buffalo emerging from a thicket about 150m away, moving slowly in our direction. Anticipating some action, we backed away from the lions to give them space to move, and it wasn’t long before the ears of two of the Majingilane pricked up as they heard the soft lowing of the heard. Male lions can add enormous value to a buffalo hunt, providing the extra size and strength needed to bring down one of these huge bovines. It was the four lionesses, however, that went on the offensive, all standing up in unison and beginning a stealthy approach towards the buffalo, which were now about 80m away.
The three vehicles that were in the sighting moved further out to enjoy a side-on view of the hunt. We were fortunate that the terrain was fairly open, so with the aid of binoculars we could clearly see the lionesses moving into some long grass as the buffalo, still blissfully unaware of the danger, continued grazing towards them. We had moved to the side to also be out of the way of any trouble should the herd suddenly come stampeding down upon the pride. I’ve been caught between an angry buffalo herd and a lion pride before, and it’s pretty unnerving!
The tension was palpable as we waited for the lions to launch their attack. We didn’t have to wait long.
The lead buffalo suddenly sensed something was wrong, and as his head came up, the 4 lionesses sprang.
All was suddenly chaos as the rest of the herd turned and fled, and with Mike shouting from the back of the vehicle, “They’ve got one!!”, I promptly stalled! Recovering as fast as possible, we raced forward to view the action, but before we had gone 60m, the lions were in a rout, with the big bulls of the herd charging after them. The lionesses had leapt on the back of a cow, but had found themselves surrounded by far too many angry buffalo to commit to the kill, so had turned tail and run. The cubs of the pride had crept closer to view the action, as well as the hip-scarred Majingilane, but he was too late, as by now the buffalo had rallied and were coming steaming in to chase the lions off. It was a rather humorous sight as lionesses, big males and cubs all scuttled back through the gwarrie thickets until they were a safe distance away, with the buffalo forming a wall of horns behind them to discourage any further attack.
No attack was forthcoming, and the lions decided to nurse their injured pride (excuse the pun) and simply revel in the delight of being alive. What followed was an amazing half hour in which the rain stopped and the lionesses and cubs played with seemingly inexhaustible energy around the old quarry. The Majingilane watched regally from nearby, also providing some fantastic photo opportunities.
I didn’t manage to get any shots of the hunt, as it was very quick, still raining, and I was having to drive the vehicle, but here is a selection of some of my favourite pictures from the aftermath:
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell