The past two years of my guiding career here have been filled with many memorable experiences and have easily been the most incredible two years I have spent in the bush. It never ceases to amaze me how every day in this beautiful wilderness can hold something new, and every now and then you live a day that gifts you with the privilege of witnessing something truly moving.
Just a short time ago I lived one such day and experienced one of nature’s great miracles. I set out of Pioneer Camp on a rather warm summers afternoon. It was the first afternoon of John and Gail’s third visit to Londolozi and our first time venturing out together. Over their four day stay we had an incredible time.
We headed north into Marthly, where earlier that day a buffalo herd had settled alongside the Manyalethi (meaning place of stars) which runs dry for the majority of the year, but does hold beautiful pools of water which make for an ideal area for animals to enjoy a late afternoon drink. Sandros found the large herd who were now starting to move off from the shady oasis where they had waited out the heat of the day. Presuming that the herd would head down to one of the nearby pools to quench their thirst, we positioned the vehicle on the steep embankment of the river. One by one, the buffalo poured into the pools, some to drink, others to cool down after another warm African day. It is always a breathtaking scene to be amongst two hundred, maybe three hundred buffalo, suddenly realising you have become one of the herd.
As the larger, older bulls barged through the herd bellowing and grunting their way to the precious waters edge, we found ourselves simply observing, silenced by the sight before our eyes. We had been watching the herd for about half an hour, the majority of members had come and gone and were moving up the opposite bank feeding into the late afternoon. Just as we were about to leave them, Richard noticed something very odd with one of the buffalo cows. She was one of the last of the herd to come to the small pool and seemed to be quite unsettled, constantly walking in circles, groaning, lying down then standing up, as if desperate to find a position to ease her discomfort. Both rather confused, Richard and I shared our thoughts on what could possibly be the reason for the cow’s baffling behaviour when we both recalled a moment from a past drive…
Towards the end of last year, Rich and I were extremely privileged to witness the birth of an elephant. This female buffalo displayed very similar behaviour which then had Richard thinking that she could very possibly be in the early stages of labour. Watching her closely, and processing what Richard had just suggested, it all started to unfold before our eyes. Chatting to John and Gail, we were all in agreement to stick it out and hope that the buffalo cow would allow us to share in such an intimate moment. The area around the Manyalethi is a tough one to navigate through, and trying to keep watch of this female buffalo was proving to be no easy task. She was constantly moving in and around the reeds, back and fourth. After about ten minutes our speculations were confirmed. Looking through binoculars we could make out the amniotic sack dangling between her legs. The excitement and anticipation felt by everyone on the vehicle at the thought of watching another miracle unfold in front of us was electric. It is a feeling that words can simply not describe. All eagerly waiting and watching through our binoculars, we caught our first glimpse of the brand new calf. The buffalo cow was moving around constantly, pausing every couple of minutes to push her little one out into the world. She was the only buffalo left in the riverbed as the rest of the herd were now grazing in a clearing some way off. The female was noticeably concerned about the distance that now lay between her and the herd, as being a lone buffalo with a vulnerable new born calf put her at great risk. As the sun started to set, predators would soon be stirring and she knew her best option was to head back to the protection of the large herd before dropping her calf. Within about five minutes of her rejoining the herd, we heard the thud of a brand new life entering the world. The female had given birth to a beautiful little calf. The excitement built like a wave, passing over each member of the herd as youngsters and elders alike skipped and bounced past the young calf, some stopping to acknowledge the special bond already developing between mother and baby. The ever protective mother immediately started to lick and clean her little one to remove any scent that could possibly draw unwanted attention.
We watched as the determined little calf tried to stand on its trembling legs time and again, toppling over but getting back up until eventually he succeeded. Incredibly it took the calf only seven minutes to stand – albeit still very wobbly. The instinct of the calf kicked in and the youngster was soon looking to suckle from mom – trying to grasp the art of standing, finding and latching on to its mother’s teat was a whole other story! The little one provided us with much entertainment as he clumsily went about learning the ways of his new world.
Take a look at another buffalo birth witnessed in 2013 by Londolozi Guest, Anders, below…
While we, as guides and trackers, can use our knowledge and skills to find and observe the wildlife, it is times like these that remind me how truly blessed we are to be afforded an amazing opportunity where we are ‘invited’ to bare witness to a miracle and to be an observer of the raw beauty of nature.
Have you ever witnessed the raw beauty of a wild birth like this? We would love to know your encounters, too.