Few animals have captured my attention in the way that male lions have.
Many people across the world feel similar, but I do believe that the more time spent in their company, the more special that bond & connection. I have spent many, many hours in the company of the King of Beasts and believe me when I say, that bond is tight!
Yes, they are inactive for the better part of 24 hours. They are better known for lazing about on their backbones with their paws pointing skywards! That said, when they do get active, you are never too far away from incredible events & interactions.
Something I have been dreaming of my entire life, including my 12 years as a professional guide, is to play witness to a great battle between male lions & buffalo. To me, this has to be one of the greatest shows of strength in nature. A 220 kilogram male lion versus a 600 – 800 kilograms of angry buffalo.
I have on several occasions in the past witnessed buffalo being killed by lions, but always within a thicket hidden from sight, or at night under the cover of darkness.
On one of my recent private safaris to the south-eastern corner of Kruger Park, the dreams I had finally became a reality.
I was woken by the roars of 2 male lions just before 4am. The camp we use for our safaris here has canvas walls – the sounds of the natural world outside easily penetrating into my room, a magnificent experience in itself.
I immediately went outside to get an idea of which direction they were calling from. That was not needed. Every few minutes they would call and it was evident that they were moving straight towards camp itself. The call grew stronger and stronger each time.
Just before 6am they were drinking from the waterhole in front of our camp. I could hardly contain my excitement! I absolutely live for these moments when the animals you love come to find you at camp in the early hours of the morning!
My guests and I boarded the safari vehicle in a hurried fashion, and drove round to the other side of the waterhole to meet up with the two brothers. They had come a long way during the night and a drink was much needed.
They mulled around the waterhole for a few minutes and then continued their journey straight south from the camp’s waterhole. We decided to stick with them. We had hoped for some beautiful images of the two brothers on the move in early morning sunlight. There was even a bit of mist around making for striking scenes.
They were not wasting anytime and were clearly set in a direction. They would stop every so often to scent-mark some of the shrubs they were passing by. This is territorial behaviour and ensures any other rogue males passing through will know that this territory is well occupied.
As individuals these two were already very intimidating in appearance, but when seen walking together they made for a fearsome sight. They were part of a coalition of 4 male lions, but were had no idea of the other two’s whereabouts. We did not mind too much as these two males were more than enough for us.
Then, all of a sudden the males stopped dead in their tracks and stared deep into the Lebombo Mountains to the east of us. We too thought we had heard the sound of buffalo, and were sure that this was what the male lions picked up on. They were incredible focused and just kept looking east.
I knew that the idea of buffalo would transfer their attention from heading south, to searching for the buffalo!
After 2 or 3 minutes they had made up their minds, and as one unit they changed their southerly course and moved straight east towards the sound of the buffalo. Now they picked up the pace and walked with even more determination. I knew this look well, I had seen it many times before. The walk they had adopted now meant business. These lions were very keen on something up ahead, and we were soon to find out exactly what they had heard.
Up in the distance we caught sight of a small group of buffalo, perhaps 80 in number. The wind was in favour of the lions and the herd of buffalo had no idea what was coming their way. They all had their heads down and were busy feeding, slowly moving to the west.
The male lions settled down some 100 meters away, and just kept watching the herd. They were analyzing each and every move, there was no doubt about that. The two males were now lying down 50 meters apart, but both were keeping an eye on one another, feeding off each others energy, waiting perhaps for the other to make the initial move. Male lions have a very strong bond, and this is most evident when they defend their territory, and when they hunt big prey.
Buffalo, was big prey!
We decided to move towards the road and whilst we waited for the lions to make a move, we would have some coffee. The buffalo herd all lied down in a tight bunch, presumably to ruminate on the food they had eaten during the morning and to get some rest. Bad move!
I had hardly poured the first steaming cup of coffee when one of the males rose to his feet, and made a move straight towards the unsuspecting herd. One look at the way he was moving – low to the ground, ears forward, eyes ablaze – I knew he meant business.
In the immediate excitement I surprisingly decided not to get rid of the coffee in the mugs by means of throwing it all into the nearby bushes, but swiftly poured it back into the flask. Just as I had finished and taken my seat, the male lion starting trotting. He was now 50 meters out from the herd and gaining speed, fast!
We started the safari vehicle and set off in the direction of the herd. The herd had now just spotted the massive male lion making a beeline straight for them, and jumped to their hooves and started running in the opposite direction. Typically, male lions won’t pursue prey for long distances, but this male lion just kept on going. Just as we got up with the running herd, we noticed in the thick of the dust, the male lion leaping through the air and on to the back of an adult buffalo! With incredible ease and certainly much power, he pulled the buffalo to the ground and swiftly moved to the back of the head and on to the throat. He had covered more than 200 meters and was intent on finishing this buffalo in rapid speed!
To see how quickly all of this had happened was incredible. I distinctly remembered a rush of adrenaline, speeding through my entire body! It seemed to congregate in my fingers as I could hardly operate my camera! My hands were shaking that much!
I positioned us according to the events unfolding infront of us, and made sure my guests had a front-row seat to something I had dreamed of seeing for many, many years!
The buffalo tried as best it could to regain strength and to heave itself up back to its feet, but the sheer power & weight of the male lion holding it down was simply too much!
Instinctively, the male lion let loose it’s grip of the buffalo’s throat to have a look around. This was likely to see where his brother was, and to see if any of the other buffalo’s were on their way back to fend off the male lions. Neither was in sight, and he continued his relentless attack.
One thing I will remember forever, was the look of both eyes in my viewfinder. For a moment, time stood still. The male lion, fire in his eyes, was intent on ending the life of this buffalo. The eyes of the buffalo were telling a whole different story. It was filled with panic, with fear, with the knowledge that escape was unlikely and that this would be the last few breaths that it would take.
Giving up was not an option though!
Then, out of nowhere, 2 rhinos descended upon the scene! I could hardly believe it!
The male lion was slightly startled and this allowed the buffalo to rise back to its feet, and to have a go at the closest lion. The lion, very quick on its feet, wisely moved out of the way. The buffalo took its opportunity and made for open land to try and rejoin the herd.
This, was not to be.
Now both male lions were in attendance and set off after the wounded but angry buffalo. In less then 30 meters they caught up to it again, and this time the second male took the lead.
In an incredibly powerful and tactful move, the male jumped up onto the side of the buffalo. He used his powerful front paws to pull, and used his back legs to kick the hind legs out from underneath the buffalo. Assisted by his brother, the buffalo immediately went back down to the ground.
This time, it would be its last. It would never rise again.
The big black-maned male lion quickly moved onto the throat of the buffalo, and ended the struggle within minutes.
He too was unassisted by his brother. It was not needed. The strength of a single male lion was clearly obvious. I remember watching these last moments, absolutely jaw-dropped!
As the buffalo breathed its last, I let go of my camera. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. It was such a big moment for my guests and I.
To play witness to such an event, to see this battle for life & death unfold in front of your eyes, this is something that’s hard to describe in words, and no doubt best with visuals.
I turned and looked to my guests, and they were speechless. They could not believe what they had witnessed!
To some, it’s never easy to accept what happens in nature. Yes, death is never a nice facet of life. It’s permanent, it’s final.
For these two animals – lion & buffalo – it’s a daily event. It’s something they are constantly aware of. The one tries as best to avoid it whilst the other is constantly on the lookout for opportunity to deliver the final blow. Not for hatred, vengeance or sport, but for survival, for food.
Sometimes lions pay the ultimate price, injured beyond repair by the horn of an angry heavy buffalo.
Not today though. Today, we played witness to the incredible talent that a male lion was blessed with. That of power, strength and a heart filled with fire.
It was a sighting I had been dreaming of for as long as I can remember, and something I will cherish for the rest of my life. Still today I look back at these images, and I am thankful for what I have captured and am able to share with you today.
Thanks for reading along!
Till next time,
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