It’s quite a feat for a single lioness – and not even a particularly big one – to bring down a buffalo by herself. Especially when there is an ample supply of far easier (at least seemingly easier) prey species at hand in the form of impala, bushbuck, nyala and a number of other antelope species.
Yet that is exactly what the Tsalala lioness accomplished last week in an insane display of strength. Ranger Greg Pingo heard the buffalo’s distress calls, and found the lioness and her kill when she was already opening it up.
Certain factors almost certainly acted in the lioness’ favour. The buffalo looked like an old bull and was therefore slightly weaker than a male in his prime. The river sand in which she took him down probably helped anchor the bull, preventing him from moving fast and perhaps making good an escape. The thick bank of Matumi trees probably hemmed him in, acting like a wall against which he could be cornered.
I’m in no way attempting to belittle the lioness’ accomplishment here; quite the opposite in fact, as I’m singing her praises for recognising a superb opportunity and capitalising on it.
That buffalo fed her and her cubs (and one of the Birmingham males) for a further 6 days!
The supply of buffalo bulls in the Sand River has been noticeably short since the drought of 2015-16 (the drop in numbers can be largely attributed to the senior Tsalala females that were around then, as at one stage were bringing down the old buffalos almost daily), but two years of better rainfall has seen a gradual bounce back in the numbers, and a couple of older males have started splintering off into bachelor existences in the reedbeds and palm thickets. Tracking big cats into these areas has become noticeably more intense, as the likelihood of bumping into a recalcitrant bull unexpectedly is significantly higher than it was 24 months ago.
This will be a state of affairs that the Tsalala lioness will relish, as if more and more opportunities like this one present themselves, she can essentially be care-free for a couple of days while she and her litter devour their meal. Hyenas tend to keep well clear of lions in this area (they have more than enough food to scavenge off the local leopard population), and it is only other lions that the Tsalala female needs fear.
She narrowly avoided being run off the kill only a couple of hours after she made it when the Ntsevu pride wandered through the area only about 800m away, downwind, but fortunately they didn’t get a whiff of the carcass.
The lioness moved off after just under a week, not going far and remaining in the reedbeds of the Sand River. She has not been seen for a couple of days now and we suspect the small pride is still inhabiting the River downstream from camp.
Hopefully the female is simply waiting for the next buffalo that happens along…