The Southern Pride had eluded us…after 2 hours of tracking we were beginning to lose hope. Temperatures were soaring and we assumed that they would be hunkered down in the shade by now trying to avoid the searing heat. However, the bush is forever full of surprises and eventually the excited call came through from Morah that she had located the entire pride, including the Kruger male and the 5 cubs! On top of that, they were moving with purpose towards a herd of about 20 buffalo bulls…
By the time we caught up with them, the lions had their game plan in place. Although a good 300 meters from the buffalos, the pride had started to fan out, beginning to flank their quarry on both sides. The Southern Pride is renowned for their skills as buffalo killers and we took up position on the periphery and waited for the hunt to begin.
As the trap began to close, one female sprang forward from her position sending the buffalo into panic. The herd tore across the open ground. Dust plumed into the clear sky and oxpeckers scattered everywhere as they lost their grip. The herd managed to stay intact and put ground between themselves and the pursuing females. We thought that the fight had been lost but the buffalos then made what tuned out to be a fatal error. They wheeled as one back towards the hunters and one of the flanking lionesses managed to grab a flailing leg of a lagging bull as he thundered past. That was all the pride needed. Within seconds, realization that the tables had turned spread through the ranks and the females tore towards the incapacitated buffalo. Within seconds, the weight of the frenzied females put the buffalo on his back and then, with precision timing, the male arrived and clamped his strong jaws over the wind pipe of the now helpless prize.
But the buffalo’s cries of anguish did not go unnoticed and as expected, the rest of the herd was heading back to the scene to rescue their fallen comrade. The presence of the male however had freed up some of the females and sub adults and the ranks of buffalo took one look at the wall of salivating jaws facing them and decided that self preservation was more important than the well being of their companion. It was a relatively easy kill for the pride bearing in mind the strength of the buffalo but the sheer weight of numbers and the Southern Pride’s wealth of experience decided matters quickly. The pride then settled down to enjoy the spoils of their morning’s work and we watched with morbid fascination as the dissection began.
Razor sharp teeth attacked the now lifeless buffalo and quickly the soft underbelly was opened. Oxygen rich blood covered the faces and matted the fur of the youngsters as they fought for the nutritious organs.
Compared to some feeding frenzies, this one was fairly subdued. The 700+kg buffalo provided ample opportunity for the lions to satisfy their greed and although the carcass was barely visible beneath the writhing mass of hungry cats, there was more than enough to go round. The air was filled with the sounds of tearing flesh and labored breathing as the victors gorged themselves on their protein rich prize, struggling with the concept of breathing whilst their mouths were full!
The position could not have been more perfect from our point of view. The open area that had seen the demise of the buffalo allowed us to get up close and personal and watch the feat unfold. A watering hole a few hundred meters away offered some respite from the blistering heat and after the initial carnage had subsided, a constant procession of cats made their way back and forth to quench their thirst.
By the afternoon, the majority of the carcass had been consumed and by the time we went out to see the aftermath after dinner, nothing remained except a few bones. The scene before was actually rather comical – lions littered the ground panting heavily, nursing their swollen bellies as they digested the vast protein intake that will ensure their survival for the next few days. It looked like they had raided a yoga convention and swallowed all of the balls whole! Movement was kept to a minimum and the only sounds that escaped them were soft moans of satiated pleasure – it reminded me of my family after a hearty Christmas dinner!
For my guests, regular safari goers, it was their first kill and will live long in their memory. The bush is full of surprises and although we worked very hard for the opportunity to see them that morning, the spectacle they laid on for us was worth the wait. Of course we felt for the buffalo’s demise but the sight of the bloated youngsters made the unpleasantness easier to handle. Life in the wild is harsh but the future for this magnificent pride looks good and we look forward to watching them flourish in the months to come.