My wife Kate and I visited South Africa for 10 days in late October, including a four-day stay at Londolozi. It was our first time on safari and having travelled with high hopes, it is fair to say that the Londolozi experience more than exceeded those expectations. Over the course of our four days and eight game drives we were taken on an amazing journey.
One incident in particular dominated our visit and the memory of it stays with us still. Regular readers of the Londolozi blog may recall the narrative posted at the time by our ranger, James Tyrrell, recounting the struggle between the Sparta pride and a herd of buffalo bulls over a sick buffalo cow (Ultimate Lions vs Buffalo, October 2014). We had the good fortune to be on James’ jeep that morning and Kate was able to film the confrontation as it played out in front of us. James’ blog described the event so well there seemed little we could add at the time so we have held off sharing these thoughts until now.
The incident we witnessed truly illustrated the cycle of life and death that goes on every day in the bush.
We had already had a great morning game drive, following a young female cheetah as she warily picked her way through the bush. Little did we know the morning was about to get a whole lot better.
With a little time left before breakfast, we dropped off our tracker Mike Sithole to try and find the pride of lions believed to be in the area. En-route to pick up Mike we encountered ten or so buffalo grazing by a waterhole. James immediately picked out the poor condition of the lone female buffalo. We viewed the group for a few minutes and then watched them head off up the hill and into the bush just as Mike called in to say he had found the pride resting up. We had seen one of the Majingilane males on our first game drive but to see a pride of lions comprising three adult females with four grown up cubs was, we thought, going to be a highlight of our visit, even if they were doing not very much at all.
We watched the pride for a while as James called in another jeep, driven by Simon so his guests too could enjoy the scene. On their arrival we headed off back to camp for breakfast. We had only driven a few minutes when Simon called to say that buffalo had appeared (as it turned out, the group we had seen earlier) and that we might wish to come back. As we returned, the pride was already in hunting mode – one of the young males was heading off to our right to try and encircle the buffalo. However, the pride was spotted and the buffalo headed off back down the hill, with us following another of the young males – he was clearly focused on something that was beyond our hearing.
Following him through the bush, he took us back down to the waterhole where we had first encountered the buffalo. With the help of Mike the lone female was found nearby, pinned down by three of the pride.
What then followed was 30 minutes of charge and counter charge, dust, noise and confusion as the male buffalo sought to protect their sick companion and the lions rallied to drive them off. Every time the female was brought down she got weaker and weaker until it became apparent to the male buffalo that the struggle was lost and, with a final charge by the pride, the herd left, leaving the lions with their prize.
The whole event elicited a wide range of emotions as it played out – excitement at the whole situation unfolding in front of us; awe for the power of the lions and the teamwork they displayed to pursue the hunt; wonder at the determination of the male buffalo to protect one of their herd; and pity for the female buffalo as she was finally abandoned to her fate. It is a testament to the strength of these animals that she continued to struggle and hold onto life until she finally succumbed to the power of the pride.
Ultimately there is an understanding that this is the daily struggle for life for all animals in the bush. By taking on the buffalo herd and winning this confrontation, the Sparta pride was able to feed and sustain itself.
Returning 24 hours later we were able to see that other animals had taken advantage of the kill and they too had fed off the lion’s catch. Vultures settled in a tree nearby and a lone hyena scavenged on what was left of the buffalo carcass. In the struggle to survive, nothing was being left to waste.
Death and life on safari. An amazing journey.
Written and Photographed & fIlmed by: Graham & Kate Hardie