the circle of life

Quietly the three cubs lie still in their den as the sound of the approaching buffalo herd gets closer. The sound of the grunts and moans of the buffalo ring through their ears and the vibrations of 200 buffalo’s hooves pulse through their fragile bodies. Filled with fear the little ones instinct tells them to stay put, yet every part of them is screaming ‘RUN!!!’ Heads all focused on the approaching danger and hoping that mom will arrive just in the nick of time to get them out of this pickle.

learning lion cub at sabi sabi

The scent of lion fills the nostrils of the buffalo…the herd starts to sniff and gather closer as the large pathfinders investigate the area with their nostrils. A deep anger and hatred fills the buffalo as they draw closer to the den site. One of the cubs panics and moves giving away their hiding place and a mass of black engulfs the den site.

Horns slash and prod, beating down on the area where the cubs are squirming to get away. A cub yelps as a horn crushes down upon it. Another yelp…this time more faint…the little cub lets out his last breath as he is crushed under the weight of the buffalo. The danger is not over…another cub attempts a get away but is caught by the sharp end of another horn, which enters her rump, and as she hits the floor she quickly squirms into the base of a nearby bush, pain shooting through her whole left side. She cuddles close to her remaining sibling, both shaking with fear as the herd tries to get into their safe house.

buffalo at sabi sabi

Eventually the herd lose interest and start to move on. As the last of the buffalo move past, the injured cub crawls out to see if her brother is alive, the other cub too frightened to move, stays put. There is no movement in her brother, not a squeak of pain, not even a breath. Her brother has joined the 60% of cubs that don’t make it to adulthood. The pain shooting down her side grows and she squeals in pain hoping her mother will hear her and come to assist, but she is too far away. She is out with the pride trying to get food to support her new litter. The cub crawls back to her sibling, cuddling close and not knowing what her fate will be. Blood is streaming from her leg but it doesn’t seem too bad. Maybe she has a chance, she has the spirit of a lioness and she will fight until her last breath to keep herself strong.

On the other side of the reserve the Southern Pride is just starting to stir, as they wake from their day long slumber. The light has all but gone and the chill of winter has crept in to take its place. As they move silently through the night the lions spot a lone bull buffalo who has found his place for the evening and is chewing on the food he gathered all day, ensuring that it is fine enough to extract all the minerals he needs. He is old and weary and left his herd a few years back and even though he is alone and knocking on deaths door, his will to survive glows as bright as the midday sun.

lions kill a buffalo while on safari at sabi sabi

The cubs drop back and the lionesses begin to stalk into position. They know they must be wary of their target as he is 900kg and full of aggression but they also know that if this pride of over 20 lions is to survive, they need to bring down something big. Fears aside, the females fan out and stalk silently towards their oblivious target. Suddenly the silence of the night is broken as the lions launch their attack. The buffalo is onto his feet in an instant and hits top speed in no time. The lionesses have the element of surprise on their side and are right on the heels of their prey, one of the lionesses launches herself, claws exposed and lands on the back of the buffalo. Her claws dig in deep and hold on as the buffalo attempts to buck her off…the rest of the pride now closes in and it is not long before they are attached to his muzzle and his throat. He moans in agony as he fights to free himself from the grip of death, but he is too old…his light begins to fade as the lionesses clamp down harder…his legs begin to give way and eventually he is on the ground with no hope. He lets out one last groan before the females finish him off.

lions kill a buffalo while on safari at sabi sabi

lion kill while on safari at sabi sabi

The feast is now on and the lions get tucked in. Their table manners are horrendous as each of them try to find a place at the feast. Claws fly, lions snarl and growl at each other trying to assert dominance over their prize.

lion grooming while on safari at sabi sabi

lion pride kill buffalo while on safari at sabi sabi private game reserve

southern pride lions on buffalo kill while on safari at sabi sabi

lion kill buffalo while on safari at sabi sabi

With the final score for the day sitting at Buffalo 1 – Lions 1, in a never ending game that will go on for as long as time itself, nature is the ultimate winner. What we see as saddening has made nature what it is. It has been operating in this way for millions of years with the most unbelievable success. Although this leaves us all sad I want to try put across the sadness from both sides, but at the same time show you all how nature has a perfect plan, which is never ending. Long may nature be able to carry on in its beautiful way… we may at times not understand it but it is the knowledge that this has happened before and the system is still working today, which allows us to embrace the harshness of nature and wait for the next chapter of this amazing story to start!

by: Richard de Gouveia (Little Bush Camp ranger)
All photos taken at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve by Richard de Gouveia and Calvin Kotze


  1. juan jose rubio coque says

    Thank you very much Richard for your fantastic, but really sad blog. As I read it I felt chills thinking of all the fear and terror of the small cubs. They will never feel again the warmth of their mother or spend hours playing. I can imagine his mother back to the den and desperate looking for their little babies …… Life of lions is really hard but anyway thank you again for bringing us every day a small piece of this paradise on earth that is Sabi Sand.

  2. sheila says

    First I was feeling sad for the lion cubs and then for the old buffalo. You definitely got your message across in this blog. This is, indeed, the circle of life in all its glory and gore. Thanks again, Richard, for such a well written blog and to both you and Calvin for the amazing photos. I so love the photo of the lion cub at the top of the page. Thanks guys!

    • ranger rich says

      I am glad that the message came across. As a ranger and a avid lover of the bush I wish to convey the beauty of this place with not only the pretty things but the things we may find a little harder to swallow!

      The photo of the cub was taken by Calvin and it is a great pic!

  3. terry says

    Thanks Richard…another great read with some very intense pictures. Yes, Mother Nature is cruel at times, but she knows what she is doing. Love how you are doing the videos. Thanks again.

  4. walker says

    Thank you Richard, for the moving description. I hope the injured cub makes it ok?

    The circle of life goes on and nature is beautiful in all its cruelty, harshness and beauty. No good or bad, just what is. Hope the cub makes a full recovery.

    • ranger rich says

      Thanks for the comments Walker! I too believe that there is no good nor bad but just what it is! Have a fantastic day!

  5. penny tomka says

    When we were blessed to experience Sabi Sabi in 2009, we had to beg our ranger to turn over a tortoise that had been upside-downed by another territorial male. No doubt, he would have surely been hyena food by nightfall. Our dear ranger had quite a conflict, not wanting to alter “the circle of life” and we so respected that, but still…..
    Truthfully, since childhood I have been a fan of wildlife programs but always had to hide my eyes during a kill. I understand the big picture, of course. Thank you for the reality. Still, I so look forward to the promise of the day when “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox…” (Isaiah 65:25)

  6. spike morningstar says

    We need to remember WE are meat eaters also, just like the lion! We cheer for the wrong side sometimes because we forget we are like the lion — killers. We just have someone we don’t see do the killing for us. The buffalo is also, a killer but of plants that have no voice and cannot run. It truly is a circle of life!

  7. juan says

    Hi Rich

    Awesome Pics

    Just a quick question
    What camera and iso setting do you use to capture these pics in the dark ..?

    Many thanks

    • ranger rich says

      Hi Juan

      I have just done a photographic tip on this and it will go live on the web page on Tuesday next week. I have described in detail how I have taken some of these shots. Hope you enjoy!


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