What started out as a fairly relaxed morning in the bush, with nothing much out of the ordinary going on, turned out to be the most exhilarating experience of my life. It was a prime example of how the bush can change in a heartbeat, from tranquility, peace, and harmony to excitement, chaos, and the experience of a lifetime.
After our afternoon drive the previous day, Tracker Trevor and I decided that in the morning we would cross the Sand River and go into the North. Watching the sunrise over the river is a breath-taking experience (albeit freezing cold in winter!). There had been a herd of buffalo roaming around the Manyelethi riverbed during the previous few days. We decided it would be amazing to find these buffalo in the riverbed, but we also had a hunch that there might be some lions in their vicinity.
I have recently observed that young male lions are especially opportunistic and sometimes trail herds of buffalo in the hope that there might be some stragglers (for example sick, young calvesthat can’t keep up with the rest of the herd) whom they could potentially prey upon.
Our hunch was correct! It wasn’t a young coalition of males, or a sick, young calf but…
an entire pride of lions taking down a fully grown buffalo bull!
This would be a jaw-dropping experience that I would never forget.
It all started with three ranger/tracker teams finding tracks of a pride of lions that had crossed onto Londolozi over our western boundary. We all got very excited as this was most likely the Nkuhuma pride, who we hadn’t seen for a while. The trackers got off the vehicle and followed their tracks through the Manyelethi Riverbed. From looking at the tracks they could see that the lions had chased a buffalo out of the riverbed and were trying to hunt them. All three vehicles drove into the area in which we thought the lions had chased this buffalo and, upon turning off his vehicle, Greg heard a lot of commotion between lions and buffalos.
It was happening!
We drove in to investigate and came across 12 lions taking down a fully grown buffalo bull. I couldn’t believe what we were witnessing. This is THE penultimate battle of the African bushveld, lions vs buffalos, and we were lucky enough to be spectators.
I’m going to struggle to do this experience justice, but I hope that my words – along with some pictures and a video – will give you a sense of this titanic clash.
Once buffalo bulls reach a certain age, they generally part ways with their breeding herd and either form small bachelor herds or remain solitary for the last few years of their lives. This results in them being more vulnerable to predation due to the fewer eyes and ears around to detect predators and protect individuals should a predator attack. These lions had found one of these bachelor herds and singled out an individual. They then proceeded to spend roughly two hours trying to wrestle this bull to the ground. It was a tug of war between the lions and the buffalo. However, this buffalo was not alone, his compatriots from the bachelor herd did not turn their backs and run. They rallied together to drive off the lions. and successfully did so three or four times.
When the buffalo had a chance to rest (so too were the lions), the other buffalo bulls saw this as an opportunity to move away from the commotion. Almost all at once, the whole pride had one last go at the wounded buffalo and managed to wrangle it down to the ground. Once on the ground, the buffalo had no chance. With the weight of the whole pride holding him down the battle had been lost.
What ensued was a feeding frenzy, each member of the pride trying to get their fair share of the take-down. It was amazing to see the contrast of how the lions worked so closely in unison in bringing the buffalo down and how it was every lion for themselves trying to get their share of meat from their efforts.
Two things stood out for me from that morning. Firstly, the efficiency with which the pride brought down the buffalo. The sub-adults would take turns to distract the buffalo by darting from side-to-side in front of it whilst and the rest of the pride tried to pull the rump down to the ground. Two adult lionesses would take it in turns to climb on the buffalo’s back, weighing it down.
Secondly, the brute strength of a buffalo. It took more than two hours for twelve lions to eventually bring it down to the ground.
For many, watching a kill can pull at the heart strings. I came back from that morning with a tear in my eye. I was left feeling in awe of just how brutally raw that experience was. It also gave me huge respect for both lions and buffalos, and importantly nature in its entirety, in its most raw form.