The morning started like most mornings in the bush with early wake up calls for the guests followed by coffee, tea and some freshly made muffins and croissants while watching the sun rise in front Earth Lodge. We had a call from the Assistant Head Ranger at Earth Lodge, Michell, who had gone out on an earlier game drive – it was all kicking off not far from the lodge and we needed to mobilise the guests and get there quickly.
The story started the night before when a herd of approximately 100 buffalo made their way onto our property. They were found by the Head Ranger at Earth Lodge, Andrew and as he suspected they were being followed by their arch rival – a lioness. This female was a member of the powerful Southern Pride who specialise in larger prey like the Cape Buffalo. We had seen six members and the dominant Kruger male earlier that morning so we knew she did not have the power of numbers. I was approaching the sighting when there was a huge commotion with buffalo distress calls filling the evening air. The female, filled with a lust for blood, had charged mindlessly into the herd but had failed with her attempt. I then stopped and noticed another lioness and a younger cub watching the action about 30 meters in front of the barrier of horns. It was dark and the buffalo struggled to pick up on the huntress directly in front of them until about 5 meters when the buffalo stumbled upon her and mounted a stampede in her direction sending her running at a rate of knots.
In all this confusion the cub was left alone with the buffalo incensed and on a mission to destroy any lion in their way. If any of you read my blog from last week where the pride destroyed two younger members of the buffalo herd, killing a young cub and future predator, would be a satisfactory form of retribution for such an act. I watched in horror as these 900kg beasts propelled their way towards the cub and I feared the worst when I lost sight of the cub with the buffalos swishing their horns through the long grass. We followed the herd for approximately 30 minutes before we eventually found one of the females, thankfully joined by the lucky cub a few minutes later who was showing no ill effects of the interaction. They spent the rest of the evening regrouping keeping a safe distance from the herd. Little did we know how the next day would unfold. When we got the news that morning, the guests moved quickly and we headed out into the bushveld with an anticipation cutting through the crisp, cold air. When we got there we realised why the lions had not made another attempted attack the night before – they had called for reinforcements and it arrived in the form of the 4 lionesses led by the experienced Floppy Ear, 2 sub adult males and the regal Kruger male. In what seemed to be revenge for the previous night’s events, the formidable force of the Southern Pride took out two calves from the buffalos ranks in quick succession with the Kruger male delivering the killer blow to one of the calves.
Lions are not known for their table manners and sharing, and this coalition of killers turned into a bunch of hungry teenagers at a buffet table. The scene was so memorable – the blood stained mane of the Kruger male breathing so heavily that the vapour from his breath was clearly visible in the cold air of a typical Lowveld winter morning. The sound of the bones crunching while the low growl of the pride members as they try and deter their allies from taking another bite which often ends in a swift flurry of huge paws with razor sharp claws .
In lion society, it is the dominant male that feeds first and all the females are left fighting over the scraps and this pride is no different except the females give as good as they get. The Kruger male took his aggression out of one of the younger females so she was forced to sit on the side line and try and pick up on some of the scraps like a stray leg which she proudly pilfered. Within 45 minutes the carcass was reduced to mere entrails and bones.
Visually, a kill is highly charged with various emotions and is very brutal and it is sometimes very difficult to accept how harsh Mother Nature can be. All of these actions are based on a primal instinct to survive in an environment which is unforgiving. We are however privileged to bear witness to what it takes to prosper in this beautiful place we call home.