A little bleary-eyed, the day began at 5am when we met Sean (ranger) and Robert (tracker) at the Land Rover. We set off and within ten minutes, Robert spotted the tracks of two male lions from the Matimba coalition. As we continued to track these lions, we came across the prints of a further two individuals that had joined the males, this time two lionesses from the Tsalala pride.
As we followed the tracks of all four animals, Robert predicted that these four had met randomly and were engaging in the unusual practice of joining forces to hunt. We continued under our tracker’s guidance and shadowed the four lions for approximately forty minutes when to our surprise we suddenly came across thirteen lions from the Mhangeni pride, who were in the riverbed amongst a small herd of buffalo. We watched from across the Sand River, with reedbeds and rocks making it impossible to get closer.
What unfolded before our eyes was the spectacle of the thirteen lions taking down one of the buffaloes. Dust was flying and the bellowing of the buffalo, combined with the growling of the pride was sure to attract attention. As we were far away, our vision was partly obscured but we could put it all together from what we could see and from the chilling sounds we could hear.
All of a sudden to the left of this activity along the banks of the Sand River, the Matimba male lions that we had been tracking earlier in the morning appeared, obviously moving in to investigate the commotion. Weaving in and out of the reeds and rocks, these lions stealthily but quickly made their way towards the Mhangeni pride and buffaloes. We watched as they were closely followed by the two lionesses from the Tsalala pride.
What happened next can only be described as chaos! As the four approaching lions picked up their pace, the males began roaring at full volume, and they proceeded to charge straight into the Mhangeni pride in order to claim the injured buffalo. The thirteen-strong pride lions scattered, running for their lives across both sides of the Sand River. Five young lions fled to the Londolozi side, with the rest to the Mala Mala side. The Matimba males and Tsalala females were determined on claiming the buffalo and it was clear from what we saw that they would take no prisoners from the Mhangeni pride.
As the young lions sought refuge in the bushes near us on the Londolozi side of the river, on the far side, the older females of the Mhangeni pride were watching from a distance, as the four attacking lions took the buffalo as their own.
All of a sudden one of the Tsalala lionesses broke off from attacking the buffalo and sped towards the watching Mhangeni pride, and in the chase a young male lion was tackled and dust flew all around. Miraculously, the young lion escaped and ran up the hill, following the rest of his pride, up and over the crest to safety.
The four lions antagonist lions settled down in the riverbed and we listened to the anguish of the buffalo as he slowly succumbed. We continued to watch and listen as the two male lions feasted, occasionally allowing the lionesses to share the spoils. Through camera lenses and binoculars, we could see the faces of the Matimba males covered in the blood of the buffalo and we heard their low growls as they revelled in their success. Continually exerting dominance over the lionesses to claim more of the kill, they roared and fought over their meal.
We then moved in the Land Rover to no more than twenty metres away, where three of the young lions found shelter away from the big dominant males. One of them had blood on its face and paws from catching and holding down the buffalo, before it was cruelly stolen from them. All three showed signs of exhaustion, having come close to being seriously mauled in the battle between them and the Tsalala and Matimba lions.
We finished up our eventful morning game drive with a coffee on the crest of rock overlooking the Sand River, while the lions continued to feast on the buffalo.
On our evening game drive, just as the sun was setting, we came upon five members of the Mhangeni pride who had headed west into familiar territory, near the Londolozi and Singita borders. The five youngsters, two males and three females, were clearly still exhausted, hungry and on alert after the morning’s events. They continued to call to each other in the hope of locating the rest of the pride. We could clearly see that one of the male lions was injured as a result of the morning’s battle, as he gingerly followed his pride members.
As the last of the sunlight disappeared, the lions headed off in the hope of a successful hunt. As young lions without their mothers, it is unlikely that they would have been successful.
Written by Peter Sharp, Londolozi Guest
Londolozi Note: The Mhangeni pride has still not fully regrouped since this incident. Two lionesses were on central Londolozi last night while the rest of the pride is further west on a buffalo kill. It may be some time before they fully regroup…