One thing I love most about this blog is the role it plays as an archive, in which we can look back and reference incredible sightings and make comparisons. Then and Now, as it were.
The saga of life in the bush for all its inhabitants may consist mostly of routine, punctuated by isolated dramatic incidents, yet all are interwoven in the great tapestry of nature, and links, although sometimes tenuous, can be made between seemingly isolated events.
Sometimes, though, the link is cut and dried, and in the incident that took place recently, it certainly was.
We ran a post last month that documented the Tsalala Pride’s attempted takedown of a large buffalo bull, in which the old buffalo managed to escape the lion’s clutches. It was stated at the end of the post that “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.”
We wouldn’t have long to wait for this prophetic statement to come true, as in less than a month the incident would repeat itself, although this time with a less desirable outcome for the buffalo involved.
We left the carpark a little later than the other vehicles on a relatively chilly morning, and upon hearing that the Tsalala pride had been found only a few hundred metres from camp, decided to spend some time with them, thinking they may cross the Sand River. We arrived to find the pride still relatively immobile and huddling together for warmth, but were also encouraged by the fact that some of the youngsters in the pride were watching a group of nyala on the far bank of the river. The pride would have to cross a very exposed sandy section and then the river itself to get at the nyala, which would have left them in plain sight rendering their chances of a successful hunt effectively zero, so we knew they were unlikely to make a move until the herd had drifted away into the thickets.
Settling down to wait, much like the pride, we became aware of a noise in the palm thickets much closer at hand. The rustling was also piquing the interest of some of the pride members, and through logical reasoning we deduced it could only be a buffalo. Nyala, kudu and bushbuck, other possible inhabitants of the riverine vegetation, move very quietly, so they were ruled out. Rhino were unlikely to be found in that habitat, and an elephant would not have made the lions so curious, as they would not have viewed one as a potential meal. A buffalo, probably an old bull, was therefore the only likely candidate.
One by one the pride silently began moving down the hill towards the source of the noise. In order to get a decent photographic angle of the pride while they rested, I had manoeuvred our vehicle in between some acacia trees on the slope below them, and when they filtered away behind us, I had to wait before the last one moved off before I could attempt an exit. Before I could do this, a resounding bellow broke out below us, and tracker Innocent Ngwenya from his back seat vantage point, shouted “They’ve got a buffalo!”. Spinning around in my seat I saw the rear end of an almighty great buffalo bull disappearing between the trees, with six lions in hot pursuit and one riding on his back!
After a painfully lengthy turning process we broke clear of the acacias upon which ranger Garret Fitzpatrick directed us through the trees to where the pride had the bull – which was absolutely enormous – surrounded. Caught between a thicket line and a deep pool of water, his options were limited, and he chose to stand and fight.
A combination of a long dry season and old age had weakened him however, and unlike in the incident from July 7th, this buffalo did not have a large herd to attempt to retreat into, in which to seek protection.
Ironically about ten minutes before the attack I had been discussing the young males in the Tsalala pride with my guests, and had made the declaration that when it came down to taking down big prey items, they would be far less involved than the big females. As we rounded the last stand of Phragmites reeds to approach where the lions were attempting the takedown, it was two of these same young males that were riding on the buffalo’s back, doing their utmost to subdue him!
Ultimately though, it was the adult females in the pride that brought things to their inevitable conclusion. Although the weight of the young male lions on his back certainly weakened the bull, it was the anchoring by the big females that restricted his movement and drained his strength to the point of collapse. The tailless lioness and her sister had used their lethally sharp claws to grab the buffalo’s flanks and back legs, and within probably ten to fifteen minutes of the start of the attack the bull was down.
Because a buffalo bull has such a thick neck, lions will often not attempt their standard asphyxiation grip on the throat when killing them, but will rather try and clamp down over the mouth and nostrils to restrict the breathing of the prey. The Tailless lioness did exactly that, cutting off the old bull’s supply of oxygen until his struggles had ceased and the pride could settle down to feed at their leisure.
Today, we have to leave you with another cliffhanger, when we reveal that the slightly skinny looking young male lion standing up in the last picture is not from the Tsalala pride…!
More on this in an upcoming blog…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell, Londolozi Ranger
Filmed by Innocent Ngwenya, Londolozi Tracker