Warning: Graphic Content!
Some days ago, the Sand River male lions and Southern Pride lionesses made their way back onto Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve and looked to be desperate for a decent meal. First appearing in the south, we tracked them towards Earth Lodge observing as they intently stalked whatever crossed their path, but luck was not on their side. By the following morning they had made their way up onto the northern section of the reserve, thin and lethargic due to the lack of protein. They pushed on in the morning heat.
Suddenly their demeanor changed as they picked up the scent of a bachelor herd of buffalo nearby, immediately going into ‘hunting mode’ and summoning all their strength for the cause. One female took the lead, stalking nearer to the unsuspecting buffalo, while the rest of the group attempted to outflank the gang of bulls. Suddenly all hell broke loose as the female presented herself and rushed at the herd. Unfortunately the buffalo herd bolted away from the wall of lions and made it to safety. The lions, weak and defeated, would go hungry yet another day.
Calm had ensued after the previous day’s excitement and the six lions had snuck in once again undetected. They lay in the depths of the dry Msuthlu Riverbed showered in the shade of the Sycamore Fig Trees that line the banks, while waiting for the sun to fall below the horizon. As darkness began to creep over the bush, we made our way towards the last known location of the cats, but on route Dollen, my tracker, noticed fresh tracks crossing the road heading in the direction of the plains. We looped around the small block to find all six lions walking in single file. They seemed focused. One could tell that they were lacking energy as they stopped frequently to rest, but hunger forced them to continue.
Pausing to sniff the air and then putting their noses to the ground, they again picked up on the scent of prey. They began to walk with purpose now, spreading out until they reached the southern tree line of the plains. With scanning spotlights, we could now see the same herd of buffalo bulls they had attempted to stalk the previous morning. The call to go lights down was made.
Sitting there with our guests in the dark, the excitement was palpable. It seemed like an eternity as we waited for the lions to make their move. Suddenly, the silence was broken and the lions rushed the buffalo. We heard the bulls grunt and the sound of stampeding hooves as they fled from their pursuers. We started up the vehicles and headed towards the direction we had heard them moving, turning on the spotlights so we could scan the area. We feared the lions had missed again, but just then we spotted them. Two of the lionesses were on an old buffalo bull and we could here his moans as he called to his companions for help.
The rest of the lions arrived at the commotion and started to work on the old dagga boy. It’s hard to watch the actual act of the capture sometimes, especially when it’s such a tough and large animal. One thing is for sure; it certainly is not a quick affair. On one hand you are rooting for the lions because you know they need to feed and on the other hand, you are rooting for the buffalo to make his escape. The African (Cape) buffalo is a hardy animal and one that deserves the utmost respect from their adversaries. He most certainly had ours.
The lions had the big bull down, but not out. He rose with immense strength, six huge lions trying to keep him down. The adrenaline must have been surging through his veins as he forced his way to a standing position. He called for his companions and shortly after, they responded. The rest of the herd rushed the lions in a wall of muscle and fury, scattering them and one bull even tossing one of the Sand River males into the air. Another bull even helped to push the wounded animal onto his feet once more. It was an amazing feat of defiance against the predators.
It was, unfortunately, not enough. The buffalo was exhausted and after pulling him down a third time, he would stand again. The herd came nearer to investigate for the last time and realized the deed was done and their companion was beyond the point of no return. The lions too, were exhausted and having won the battle, paused for a while to catch their breaths before attempting to indulge their hard-earned prize.
It was an amazing spectacle and one I will never forget. Nature is raw, uncut, and we as spectators can only sit back in awe of these incredible moments that we have bared witness. The moment we all shared that night was bittersweet, but I think all of us were humbled by the encounter. “And to the old buffalo bull, whom I have spent many hours with during my tenure here at Sabi Sabi, we salute you. You put up one hell of a fight my friend. Famba Kahle.”