The Tsalala pride, and indeed many prides across the Sabi Sands and throughout Africa, shift their prey preferences depending on the season. The abundance of wildebeest calves at the start of the rains means easy pickings for the lions of Londolozi, and it is upon these incredibly vulnerably youngsters that the lion’s summer focus generally falls. Come winter, however, when the grass is brown and dry and of little grazing value, and the lions start setting their sights on bigger game.
I’m not going to delve into the digestive systems of the various herbivores around Londolozi, but one thing that is important to know, and what the lions know very well, is that the buffalo lose condition in the winter months. The poor grazing sees them losing weight, becoming ever skinnier and weaker, until finally in October the rains return and replenish the grasses, giving the buffalo access to greener pastures and allowing them to bulk up and regain their strength.
Before the rains however, as the dry season settles firmly on the Lowveld, the various prides stretch their muscles and once more start taking on the huge bovines that have sent more than their share of lions to an early grave.
We ran a post yesterday on the valuable resource that is the Sand River, flowing right through the heart of Londolozi. Buffalo need to drink daily in the winter months, as the dry roughage they are ingesting contains almost no moisture whatsoever. The Sand River therefore forms a vital drinking station for them, and if one were to fly along its length in the Sabi Sands, I am sure that somewhere along its course you would encounter at least one large herd of buffalo making its way to the waters to slake its thirst.
A day or two ago, the Tracker Academy, led by tracking genius Renias Mhlongo, were on the trail of a pride of lions that were making their way along the northern bank of the river, when they heard the unmistakable sound of a buffalo in distress on the far bank. Knowing it was very likely that the lions were engaged in a struggle with a buffalo, Renias and his team were hesitant to move through the thick reedbeds to the scene on foot, and so radioed the two rangers who were operating in the area; Don Heyneke and Byron Serrao.
Don and Byron in their Land Rovers managed to force their way through the thick bush down to the riverbank, and the following scene presented itself:
The mighty bull in this case proved too much for the Tsalala pride, and with one final attempt he managed to dislodge the Tailless lioness and retreat to the safety of the herd. Looking a bit more closely at the photos, one can see that he is still in excellent condition, and not really weakened by poor grazing yet. It is possible that he was actually unattached to the herd that was present, and was in fact a bachelor bull, spending his days in and around the river anyway, and as such having access to much better grazing.
Lions are opportunistic, and although a smaller, weaker buffalo would have presented an easier target, the confidence this bull must have felt in his size and strength (a confidence that was clearly justified) may have led him to lag behind the rest of the herd, creating an opportunity for the lions to isolate him and move in for the attempted kill. Or if he was a solitary bull, he would have been isolated by default, but with the herd nearby he would have realised that safety lay in numbers, fighting his way towards the other buffalo where ultimate salvation lay.
The lions had actually managed to bring him to ground just before this series of photos was taken, but he had managed to regain his feet and fight on.
Given that the Tsalala pride are spending an exorbitant amount of time along the river, and the herds of buffalo are regular visitors to its banks, I’m confident that this won’t be the last interaction we see like this this winter.
Written by James Tyrrell
Photographed by Byron Serrao