my favourite buffalo
It was an unusually quiet morning safari for Sabi Sabi. Except for some impala, kudu and a very curious yellow-billed hornbill, not much else was spotted. It was almost as if the tension for something big was building up.
The safari plan had been to go look for lions that had been seen during last night's safari. They had however pulled themselves up, and moved away from the ground where they had been sleeping deeply (like only lions can) somewhere during the night. The tracks went north and several safari vehicles were furiously trying to relocate the small pride consisting of five females and a male. The confusion was complete when, after an hour of searching, tracks were found in four different locations spread out over approximately 400 hectares, going in several different directions.
Suddenly the radio crackled and the longest serving ranger came through with the much awaited words that he had spotted the lions. However, they seemed to be running and had moved into a small riverbed filled with thick bush. Again the safari vehicles had to jump into action trying to find the moving pride.
I drove up to the most northern road of the reserve towards the direction where the lions were last seen, hoping to catch them. I hadn't mentioned anything about the ongoing hunt to the group of American guests that I was driving and was managing to keep them interested with birds, trees and the abundance of small game that we had been seeing.
And suddenly it happened. All the quietness of that morning was very quickly compensated for when a big bull Cape Buffalo came racing out of the bush, crossing the road right in front of my Land Rover. I hit the brakes, wondering what was going on, when suddenly a big male lion followed by five females ran across the road following the buffalo. A major surge of adrenaline hit me and my guests who all "screamed" with pure excitement and surprise.
Almost immediately after, I realised that this unique and great sighting was going to be very short lived since the buffalo, followed by the lions, had moved into an area where we couldn't follow. I had lost visual but could still hear the buffalo moaning loudly. I explained the situation to my guests who were disappointed, but still very impressed.
For some lucky reason however, the buffalo decided to turn around and came running back, and of all places, he stopped right on the track in front of me! We were immediately surrounded by the lions and I became just as involved in this sighting as my guests were. I grabbed my camera and was able to take some fantastic pictures of the scene. It was only then that I realised that this buffalo was a familiar old bull, often coming to drink at the waterhole in front of Bush Lodge. My tracker told me this was his favourite buffalo and he was hoping it would get away. That this wouldn't happen became more and more evident though, when eventually after a long and draining fight the old bull went down on its knees. The lions were still struggling since four of the females were still young and inexperienced. The oldest females was also highly pregnant, so most of the actual fighting was done by the big male lion. My tracker had difficulty containing his emotions and I could see him trying not to start shouting loudly: ''Go Buff GO!''
Then the buffalo turned around and the tables were turned. He was now face to face with the big male lion. A fraction of a second went past before the bull started his ruthless charge with more confidence than he had probably ever experienced. The lion did not hesitate for more than a second and started running full speed away from the buffalo. The females, unsure of what to do next, trotted behind the buffalo chasing the Lion.
I slammed the Land Rover into four wheel drive and drove alongside the trotting females, watching the buffalo and male lion which were slowly moving out of sight. After about a minute of driving through the bush I came back out onto a road and was able to catch up with the lion. He was panting heavily and sitting in the shadow of a thick guarri bush. My tracker spotted the buffalo which was already about 300 meters away, across a dry riverbed, still running full speed over a grassy plain. The lionesses caught up with the male and all they could do was sit and rest while more and more distance was made between them and their meal.
The whole experience is something my tracker, my guests and I will never forget. The true wild nature of animals comes out when two of the African bush's big forces collide. A wonderful, adrenaline rushed, once in a lifetime experience.
The buffalo got away and has now rightfully earned the status of being my personal favourite buffalo!