How can I fully describe all the madness that has taken place on the reserve. I have been writing furiously for the past 2 days trying log it all and as soon as I think I am nearing completion another bit of craziness happens and I am left trying to process it all. Winter at Sabi Sabi is always a great time for sightings but it seems to have kicked off with a bang.
The Southern Pride has left the reserve due to the pressure being put on them by the ongoing war between the Kruger male and the Eyrefields; and the competing males have been moving in and out marking territory over each other and booming their roars over the bush to ensure that they lay claim to this prime territory.
The arrival of a huge herd of buffalo onto the reserve is always a highlight but also knowing that the Southern Pride love buffalo left me feeling positive that the pride would be following the black sea of buffalo. The cold bite of morning left goose bumps on my skin as we left Bush Lodge and the air rushed past us. The first order of business was to find the buffalo and scour the area for tracks of the pride and it didn’t take us long to find both the buffalo and the tracks we were looking for. With no sign of the pride and no ability to walk into the thick bush to find them as the herd of buffalo was so spread out we decided to wait for a bit around the edges of the herd and see if anything happened.
As we sat watching, my tracker, Jack, spotted the most unusual sight, two little hooves protruding from a buffalo cow as she began to give birth. No more than 30 metres from us the female began to push out her little calf as she walked in circles. First the hooves, then the head, then the shoulders and then suddenly a flop onto the ground with the new mother spinning round quickly to get her first glimpse of her new calf. Immediately she began to lick her calf and eat the amniotic sack to get back some of the nutrition which she had just lost. We sat watching with baited breath, as the calf lay motionless in the long grass. The herd slowly moved off leaving the female alone and exposed a long way away from safety and with a helpless baby to protect. She walked around in circles trying to encourage the little one to get up whilst looking around for any danger.
The young calf began to move a little trying to find a way to start working its little legs to get them moving. It pushed up onto its knees before flopping back down onto the ground. It then stubbled a little higher before finding the dirt again, but with each attempt the tiny new addition to herd found more strength. Within 10 minutes the little calf was up on its feet and moving along shakily behind mom back towards the relative safety of the herd. What a sight to see…
In any terms of safari this would have to be a highlight and rightfully I could not ask for more but it came anyway. That evening the Southern Pride were found and I knew exactly what that meant…a buffalo hunt. As the pride got moving we stood by at the buffalo waiting for them to draw closer. The pride had been no more than 500 metres from the herd when they found them and the herd started to settle for the night. The darkness had set in and the lions had all the advantage as they were downwind and have excellent night vision to allow them to see what is happening. As the pride stalked closer to the herd there was no sign that buffalo had any clue that the lions were there.
We sat in the darkness with no light to assist and only sound to guide us. The buffalo groaned as they jostled for a position to sleep and the lions stalked closer, only betrayed by the rustling of the grass. Thirty minutes went by before the lions launched their attack and the thundering stampede of buffalo shook the earth as they ran from the lions. After a few steps they realised there were 500 hundred of them and only 12 lions and turned back to chase the lions. Back and forth went the buffalo as the pendulum of power swayed between them and the lions. On one of the lions advances the females managed to latch onto a baby pulling it down but not being able to hold on for too long as the herd quickly turned to come to the crying calf’s cries.
Again the lions were pushed back but the lions were far less interested in pushing back again. The herd milled around looking for the lions but they had retreated to the shadows. Finally they decided that it would be best to make a move and again stampeded away from where the lions were but there was no urgency from the big cats. They slowly walked out and started to search as if they knew something that we didn’t. That something was an injured calf. A crippling blow had been dealt in their last attack and the calf lay helpless on the floor. One of the lionesses jumped in and finished it off but was quickly hustled by the rest of the pride as they too wanted a piece. All 12 lions plus the two cubs fought for a spot at the dinner table and their growls and fighting could be heard from miles away. Within about 20 minutes there was nothing but fur and bone left and the cleaning crew had begun to arrive. The whooping of hyenas sent a few of the females into the dark to chase off their sworn enemy!
Once the kill had been devoured the pride regrouped and headed back towards the herd. They approached calmly and lay 50 metres from the attentive buffalo waiting for their next opportunity. Two hours passed with no advances by either group but the hyenas had a different plan. A pack of 6 hyenas moved in to investigate the herd and were seen by the lions and they were clearly unwelcome. The lions dashed toward the hyenas as the hyenas laughed and called as their war cry echoed over the savanna. The next back and forth fight began but was quickly ended when the fourth lioness arrived and the advantage went back to the lions. Again the pride regrouped and they began to settle right back next to the buffalo just staring into the herd and waiting.
With our lights down we again had to rely on our hearing to know when the next bit of craziness was going to happen and with a rustle next to us we immediately thought that the hyenas were back but this was too big to be a hyena. Solo and the Eyrefield male had come to join the party.
The two males were no more than 100 metres from the Southern Pride and they had not seen them. The pride just looked on at this intrusion as the males watched the buffalo. The Southern Pride was not going to stick around and stalked off hoping not to be seen by them males and started making their way back north but instead of carrying on they decided to come back. The two boys picked up on the pride the second time and there was all out chaos as the females were chased straight back north. All of them at near full speed as the males roared as they went! It was insane and only once they had chased them out of the reserve did the boys head back to the buffalo to see if they could secure a meal. What an incredible night!