harsh realities

Last night the bush, and in particular the Southern Pride, dished out a stern reminder of the harsh realities of life in the wild. After a long tracking exercise, half of the pride was finally located close to Little Bush Camp and by the time I arrived on the scene, they had just started to move south, no doubt hot on the heals of the large buffalo herd that had taken the same route that morning. Lions however are opportunistic hunters. Whilst, as some of the more avid readers may know, the Southern Pride specialize in taking down buffalo, they would be stupid to turn down an easy meal and last night, one such gift was presented to them…

Southern Pride lion while on safari at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

 Only half of the pride was present, with 4 females and the six sub adults, but they still represent a force to be reckoned with. At approximately 2 years old now, the sub adults are full of enthusiasm and eager to put their hours of play and observation into practice. The females lead the way as they moved stealthily through the night in single file. All of a sudden, their behaviour changed. Their bodies dropped low to the ground and, as one, they focused on the scene ahead. Their far superior eyesight had identified a potential target. As we scanned the horizon, we noticed the presence of a lone female waterbuck unaware of her imminent danger. The wind was in the lions favour and for now at least, the waterbuck had her back turned to the approaching pride.

 As an ethical consideration, once we saw the potential events unfolding, we turned off all the lights so as not to give either the hunter or the hunted an advantage and sat in the darkness with baited breath for the fireworks to begin. We didn’t have to wait long. The gap between them had shrunk to only about 30 meters and within moments, the silence of the night was shattered by the sounds of thundering feet and a muffled cry. By the time we turned on the spotlights once more, the fate of the waterbuck had been sealed.

Southern Pride lion at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

 For those without a stomach for the macabre, you will have to forgive my use of colourful language but nature has no parental guidance rating. By the time we arrived on the scene, not 20 seconds later, the soft underbelly of the waterbuck had been ripped open with a ferocity that cannot be painted in words. One of the sub adults had their jaws clamped over the victim’s windpipe as it choked out the final fight of the now doomed waterbuck.

The graphic nature of the scene was only amplified as the spotlights illuminating the carnage in front of us like actors on a stage. The contrast of the bright crimson blood on the orange faces of the lions brought home the reality of the situation like receiving an upper cut from an enraged Mike Tyson. I am no anatomist but it was clear that the lions were methodical in their feeding frenzy: the vital organs contain the most nutrient rich protein on offer and all were dispatched within minutes. What struck me most was the efficiency of the kill and the speed at which the waterbuck was consumed. I did not stay for the whole act to finish due to the understandable reaction of some guests that were not prepared for the brutal nature of the kill, but by all accounts, the entire meal was finished within the hour.

Southern Pride lion at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

 Nature, as we often mention though, is about balance, and after the carnage had subsided, one of the females was seen leaving the dinner table and trotting through the reserve, her full belly wobbling from side to side as she utilized the road network to ease her travel. Although we did not follow her, it was clear from her visible teats that she was rushing back to the rest of the pride where her cubs were waiting for a meal themselves. Yes, the fate of the waterbuck was graphic and brutal but its loss means that the lionesses can provide nutrient rich milk for the next generation.

Southern Pride lion while on safari at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

 Over dinner, a heated debate raged over the incident that we witnessed, with guests split down the middle as to whether the sighting was amazing or horrific. To be fair, it was a mixture of the two. Predators need to eat to survive and to care for their offspring and unfortunately they do not have shopping malls full of restaurants to choose from. All guests are eager to see the cats on offer in reserves such as ours but some of them were given front row seats to the harshness and necessities of how those lives continue to flourish. What we did all agree on, was that from an objective point of view, the manner in which the waterbuck was downed was conducted with ruthless efficiency. Like it or not, these cats are top of the food chain out here for a reason and whilst it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, one has to respect it.

Southern Pride lion at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

by: Ben Coley (Bush Lodge Ranger)
Images by: Richard de Gouveia (Little Bush Camp ranger)


  1. mj bradley says

    Wow, what an amazing experience.
    Those of us from the city raised with meat from the market, are far removed from the realities of the food chain. I may not like the idea of seeing a kill, but I sure would love the idea of witnessing this in person.
    I am grateful to you or sharing this with us.. all I can really say is WOW.

  2. mark gerling says

    That was simply an incredible narration of the harsh but true and justifiable reality for the life of the lions. Great Job. Hope to experience your lodge and reserve soon.


  3. birdie hunter says

    wow…………..that sighting must have carried a x rating but wonderfully brought into homes on the other side of the world!

  4. jeff lampkin says

    Ben, having just arrived back in Dallas the first thing I did when turning my phone back on was log on to see what we missed. We were fortunate to have seen the carnage after dinner that evening and at that point most of the waterbuck had been consumed and this portion of the pride were laying on their backs digesting the meal. My wife and I and the group we were there with discussed many times the scenario of seeing the pride take out an animal. We saw them three times in our four days but never were we able to see them hunting in action. Our take on it was as follows, nature is very demanding on any animal and the food chain is in place for a reason. But seeing the pride together, we saw them feeding twice and lounging with the younger ones one time, you come away with a sense of awe in the way they operate as a unit and care for one another. They are the ultimate in community dependance, meaning together they will survive and alone they will fall quickly. Nature is going to happen whether we are there to see it or not, true many people don’t want to see the actual fatal blow and the suffering that comes with it, but I can assure people that no other animal in Sabi Sabi does it with the precision and speed in which the Southern Pride does and we feel honored to have seen this family demonstrate how people should be able to trust each other and depend on them for not only love but for life! Inkomu Sabi Sabi!!

  5. grace cowan says

    Great story – I saw the pride when I was at Bush Lodge in February. Fred managed to take us to a kill that had happened earlier and the lions prey was up in the trees, not nearly as dramatic. These stories make me want to return again and again – too bad you are 32 hours away.
    Thanks for the stories – Grass Cowan

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