What started out as a fairly relaxed game drive going down into the southwestern grasslands in search of a large herd of buffalo, ended up being a morning that saw my heart rate surge upward of 180 bpm on multiple occasions…
After driving around for almost two hours, we finally got fresh tracks of more than 400 buffalo heading into a very rocky area with a very low road network density. Now knowing where they were likely to be, we followed the tracks all the way along the road until eventually, we caught a glimpse of the large bovines in the distance – success! Just before we got closer my guest needed to take a quick comfort break, and just as well because if it weren’t for us waiting there for that extra 5 minutes we wouldn’t have seen a male ostrich dart out of the bushes ahead of us, with a male lion hot on its tail!
I shouted, I couldn’t believe it! Luckily the guests were all back in the vehicle by this stage.
We watched the lion chase the ostrich, to no avail. Adrenaline was through the roof for everyone as it was something completely out of the ordinary and certainly not expected by any of us. I looked at my watch which gives me a heart rate reading and mine had surged to 180bpm! Gathering ourselves we were able to find the lion again and he led us back to the tail end of the buffalo herd. As exciting as it was to watch the ostrich hunt, I had a feeling that we could be in for something even more exhilarating…
The lion poised itself about 100m downwind from the herd and patiently scanned to single out any vulnerable targets. If he were to have still had his coalition partner, the Styx young male, a fully grown buffalo may have been an option, but because he was alone, he would have to select either a younger individual or one that was compromised.
I admired his patience. Sitting down, scanning, moving closer, lying back down, waiting for the perfect moment. We watched him attempt to hunt a young buffalo calf but its mother was close by and with the help of a few larger bulls at the rear end of the herd who saw the commotion were able to chase him off. They wouldn’t however have the last say, he wasn’t giving up…
He followed the herd for another hour or so, and just as they were approaching a water hole, he managed to single out a vulnerable individual. We watched a buffalo calf, roughly 1.5 years old, move closer and closer to the back of the herd as it had a broken front leg. As soon as the calf was more than 5 metres from the back of the herd the lion took its chance and leapt!
This time they drove him far away, a good 1 kilometre. Our morning could go one of two ways; It was getting late and the temperature was rising, he would either rest in the shade not far from the herd and wait until sunset to try again, or he would have one last attempt. I had a gut feeling that it would be the latter, but after weighing up our own options and deciding that we had already witnessed something incredible, we decided to start making our way back to camp.
Two things stood out for me that morning, two things that I think we as humans can learn from:
1. The patience with which the lion hunted
He never made an irrational decision. His moves were calculated and he never jumped the gun. He constantly weighed up his options carefully and waited until the pathfinders at the front started steadily making their way to water, leaving the vulnerable and wounded lagging behind. It was only then that he made his move.
2. The empathy and protection shown by the buffalos
It wasn’t only the mother of the calves that chased the lion away and protected the vulnerable individuals. Any fully grown individual in the vicinity of the commotion came to lend a hand. This was especially apparent after the injured calf had been brought to ground, all of the older bulls at the back of the herd huddled around it and helped it get back to its feet to rejoin the herd.
For all of those looking for closure on the story, the injured calf eventually succumbed to the lion. We weren’t there to witness it, but we received a report later that morning that a lion had killed an injured buffalo not too far from where we left them. And so I guess therein another lesson – go with your gut feel!