“Lovers and warriors are not bound by the rules of fair play” ― Wayne Gerard Trotman. This could not have been truer when we witnessed one of the most incredible lion sightings I have had in two years of guiding. After the most amazing leopard and hyena interaction from the previous night we decided that the lionesses with the three young cubs on a buffalo kill was our target. This would only be the second time that I would have seen these young 6-week-old cubs and the anticipation grew amongst the guests, Heaviness and myself. I could never have predicted what we would see and what would unfold in front of our eyes.
As we turned the corner approaching the last known position of the buffalo carcass, we were confronted with two of the Sandriver males feeding, with the third approaching, three of the Southern Pride lionesses were growling, snarling and hissing at them. Out of nowhere came the deep and unmistakable roars of a huge dominate male lion, who was this? Was this Solo and Eyrefield or the Kruger male? The three young males got up and retreated immediately fearing for their lives running several hundred meters from the carcass.
They regrouped and nervously began to scent mark without losing eye contact from the last known position of the male lions roar. Silence dominated for 5 minutes before pandemonium broke loose, the Sandriver males roared non-stop around the vehicle and then began their trot back towards the carcass. When they reached the carcass, the females scattered in all directions, the males continued to peruse one of the females who was heavily lactating, they caught her. She lay submissively, ears pinned back while the males tried to slap her, teeth showing and the noises growling louder and louder. She turned and made solid contact with the one males face. He stood there in complete shock while she made a getaway. The Sandriver males now decided to try and seek this elusive male and continued to roar asserting their dominance, however every time they roared the one female who was now perusing them continued to growl and hiss in complete disgust. The Sandriver males made a loop roughly to the last known position of the unknown males roar. What they didn’t know was that this unknown male had looped around them and was know standing at the carcass with the lionesses.
The dark mane, incredible size and droopy eyes made it clear to me was that this was the Kruger male. Had he come up to defend the pride or try to gain a free meal remaining under the radar? Watching the Kruger male trying to establish a game plan on how to approach this formidable force of the three Sandriver males reminded me of an old Chinese proverb – “The skillful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan. Now the shuai-jan is a snake that is found in the Ch’ang Mountains. Strike at its head, and you will be attacked by its tail; strike at its tail, and you will be attacked by its head; strike at its middle, and you will be attacked by head and tail both.” ― Sun Tzu.
The Kruger male began to roar, sending shivers down our spines. Immediately this sent the Sandriver males roaring and running back to the carcass trying to find this threat. As they reached it, the Kruger male had all but disappeared. “The enemies of your enemies are not always your friends, but they can still be useful.” ― James D. Sass. Was the Kruger male trying to determine the strength of his competitors or was he trying to seek Solo and Eyrefield? I am unsure if either the Sandriver males or the Kruger male actually made eye contact with one another but this was an incredible display of confidence and bravery from each party.
Eventually, after two hours of complete chaos and insane lion warfare, the African Bushveld began to settle down again. The Kruger male started to retreat back to thicker bush whilst looking into the horizon. The Sandriver males started to indulge in the now ripening buffalo carcass with the blowflies circling the carcass and the surrounding air. Four of the lionesses stayed in the surrounding area still unsure of the presence of the Sandriver males. The fifth lioness, which we suspect is the female of the three young cubs had slunk away during the chaos and successfully got her cubs back to the safety of their den site. What an incredible experience to have witnessed and been an integral part of this warfare in the ever-changing lion dynamics.
I leave you with yet another one of my favourite Chinese proverbs. “He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.” ― Sun Tzu