The Lion and the Buffalo – A Fight to the Bitter End

Matt Armstrong All Authors, Matt 26 Comments

Many of you may have seen and even read about the famous clash between a male lion and a female buffalo in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. There has been much speculation about what happened on the fateful September afternoon.

I was fortunate enough to witness what happened first hand and even more fortunate to be able to capture these incredible scenes. Here is a true account of what took place and some of the reasons behind such a dramatic sequence of events.

That September afternoon began as most afternoons do when on safari, with afternoon tea, in this case on the main deck of Shenton safaris Kaingo camp, that reaches out into the languid Luangwa River, the perfect place to watch the comings and goings of wildlife with a slice of cake and a cup of iced coffee before heading out on an afternoon game drive.

It wasn’t long after we pulled out of camp that a call came over the radio. Initially all we could work out that it was coming from Mwamba Bush Camp, roughly 6km away. Whoever was trying to relay the message was in such a state of panic that we had no idea what message he was trying to get across to us. Eventually, after about the 6th attempt we managed to decipher three words, LION, BUFFALO, HIDE.

Those three words were enough for me to turn to my guests and tell them to hold on to their hats as I raced the 6km across Lion plain, to Mwamba. From the message, we knew that whatever was going on, was taking place at the hide, a small thatch structure, situated at the back of the camp overlooking a small waterhole.

We knew there was a lion very close to camp as one of the Males of the Mwamba pride had been hanging around camp for a number of days. He had, over the weeks leading up to this event lost condition and removed himself from the pride. The reason for his deterioration is still unknown, but he had over time, developed patches on his skin, which were said to be either ringworm or mange. Unfortunate we never manged to find out. Whatever the cause, he was in a very bad way and the permeant water supply that the camp waterhole provided along with its continuous stream of prey species, provided easy pickings, the perfect place to wait in ambush.

After what seemed like an eternity we finally began to approach the camp. Another of our vehicles had already arrived in the sighting and informed the rest of us to go around the back of camp and cross the dry Mwamba river, not make our way to the hide as the action had now moved from the water’s edge up on to the bank.

We crossed the deep sand of the dry river and made our way up towards the far bank. During our mad dash from Kaingo camp my excitement and level of anticipation grew and grew the closer we got, but what greeted us when we arrived in the sighting and what unfolded before our eyes in the hour that followed was far beyond any of our wildest dreams.

By the time we arrived, the battle had already begun. From talking to those who had witness the beginning of the action we learned that a herd of around eighty buffalo had made their way down to the water to drink. The male lion, who had been around the area for the best part of the week was quietly resting in the shade just out of sight. By this stage, his condition was so severe and clearly driven by desperation, the thought of charging head on, single handed into an eighty-strong herd seemed like a good idea. And that is exactly what he did.

Charging down the sandy bank and launching himself into the mass of horns, muscle and rage. The heard scattered, covering all in a cloud of dust. Once the dust had cleared all that remained was a single buffalo and a deranged male lion fighting for survival.

It was at this time we got the call, and in the ten minutes it took us drive to the scene the fight gradually moved up the bank. It was at this point that we arrived, to find the lion hanging from the muzzle of the cow, blood dripping form her masticated mouth, covering the lion in a claret vale.

They seemed to be frozen in time, neither wanting to make the first move, in fear of giving the other the upper hand. When after what seemed like an eternity, the buffalo began to shake her head in an attempt to break from the lion’s grasp. After an immense show strength and determination from the buffalo, the lion finally relinquished his grip.

Both, visibly exhausted from the ordeal, they seemed to take this chance to catch their breath. With the lion laying in the dirt and the buffalo standing over him, looking down on her assailant. They remained like this for a while, all the time, the lion not taking his eyes off of his prey.

All the while this was going on, the herd had regrouped and began to make their way back towards the action. Whether or not the cow could sense this, we will never know, but she decided to try and make a break for freedom. As she turned to go the lion, who looked as though he had given up, sprang into action, jumping and clinging to the back of the fleeing buffalo.

  

 

The buffalo spun around and manged to position the lion between her two horns and quickly went to work, putting her sharp weapons to effective use. Slipping slowly but surely back towards the ground, the lion tried to hang on with his jaws clasping the back of the cow. He could not hold on for long and soon found himself wrapped around the neck of the buffalo before finally letting go, once more.

By this time, the herd had gathered and like supporters at a sporting event watched on. Again, after both animals looked at each other for what seemed like hours. The buffalo charged towards the prone figure of the lion in an attempted to put an end to it all.

The lion seemed to have other ideas. As the buffalo went to make the final blow, he hooked a claw into the face of the charging cow. He held on for dear life as he was dragged through the dirt being tossed around by the buffalo as she made an attempted to free herself.

Just as the lion began to get a stronger hold on to the buffalo, a large bull emerged from the crown and with a swift thrash of is horns broke the lion’s hold over his fellow herd member. The huge bull was not done there and followed up with a thunderous blow to the abdomen of the now beaten lion.

This proved to be a blow too far for him, he did make one half-hearted attempted at the exhausted cow but quickly decided against the idea and took refuge under a nearby gardenia tree. From here watched the buffalo join the heard and move off into the surrounding bush.

We all sat there, in total silence as we watched the last of the herd disappear. I couldn’t tell you how long we sat there for, before deciding to moving off. Not a lot was said for the remainder of the game drive. But I can assure you, that for anyone who witnessed the event first hand, it will remain with them for the rest of their life.

With a special thank you to Shenton Safaris, you can see for yourselves the immense struggle between life and death that took place that day in the video below.

Cheers for now,

Matt

About the Author

Matt Armstrong

A deep love of nature and the great expanse of the wilderness drew me to Africa at a young age and has captivated me ever since. I truly believe that my experience and passion will ensure that you to leave your Wild Eye safari with images you can be proud of and memories that will last a life time.

Share this Post

 

Comments 26

    1. Post
      Author
  1. Waldi Rosenberg

    I have been on many Safaries.I have a great fondness of Africa , my father used to have a coffee plantation

    In Tanzania, I have never seen a lion fighting a buffalo, I could hardly watch it, felt sorry for both animals

    Specially for the lion who was sick and hungry. I love films from Africa but a little bit less gruesome!!!!

    1. Post
      Author
      Matt Armstrong

      Hi Waldi

      It is never easy to watch a scene such as this, At the time is was heartbreaking to witness, especially as i had a personal connection to the lion after following him for a number of years.

      But that is nature. Life in the bush is hard for all species and the struggle for life and death is never ending.

      Thank you for taking the time to read the story.

  2. Suresh Pillai

    A nicely documented and photographed sequence of events in the life of a male lion in his last legs and a female buffalo who decided not to give up. It portrays the hunger for life very well… Great, keep it up.

    1. Post
      Author
    1. Post
      Author
    2. Suresh Pillai

      A nicely documented and photographed sequence of events in the life of a male lion in his last legs and a female buffalo who decided not to give up. It portrays the hunger for life very well… Great, keep it up.
      HI Matt,
      Though it was an epic fight, it was really a fight for survival. In a way the poignancy of the last few days of the lion brought very disturbing memories . But then, that is life …

      1. Post
        Author
        Matt Armstrong

        Hi Suresh,

        Sightings like this are never easy to watch can have a huge affect on us.

        But as you said. That is life

        Thanks for taking the time to read it.

    1. Post
      Author
      Matt Armstrong

      Hi Frances

      Yes, unfortunately he was found dead a few days after. The hyenas had gotten to him. We don’t know if he died from an attack by the hyenas or if it was a result of the injuries sustained in the fight with the buffalo.

      Thanks for reading
      Matt

    1. Post
      Author
  3. Debbie Donlon

    What ever became of the lion. I thought for sure he was gored in the ribs while he was up on her head gripping her neck.

    1. Post
      Author
      Matt Armstrong

      Hi Debbie,

      The lion died a day or two after the fight. The hyenas had gotten to him but I’m sure the injuries sustain in the fight with the buffalo had a huge impact on him physically.

      Thanks for reading

      Matt

  4. George gauntlett

    Comments compelled me to watch this stunning battle. Hard but life Is, difficult not to intervien . You are here only as a witness, nature is boss. Thank you.

  5. Pascal Mwazighe

    It a great fight for both every one was fighting to win at the end for a meal and the for life so who won? Escape with injuries and the other was left with no meal and injuries hence success is effort and determination never loose hope.

  6. DaveT

    What an amazing set of images. Yes, it’s brutal but it tells the viewer a story of the rivalry of two arch enemies. I have seen cape buffaloes chasing lions away, and watched a mother lion move her cubs down a steep ravine to avoid the buffalo seeking to kill it. These images and video show what happens at the next stage – it’s both educational and enlightening. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. Post
      Author
      Matt Armstrong

      Thanks David,
      Sounds like you have had some incredible sightings yourself.
      Im pleased you enjoyed it, thanks for taking the time to read it.

    1. Post
      Author
      Matt Armstrong

      Hi Kit,

      Yes, most certainly remember you both? Great to hear from you and thank you so much for the link.
      Your images are awesome and it is so nice to hear someone else’s version of events. It was certainly something that will stay with me forever.

      Thank you for getting in touch and sharing your story.

  7. Pingback: Carnivore and Carmines - A Unique Safari in Zambia - Wild Eye

  8. Tina Bartram

    What a remarkable piece of life to witness! An incredible journey for both man and beast… I am inthralled with your images and stories, thank you for bringing us along! Keep up the good work, my husband and I hope to join y’all one of these years! Much love and respect from Texas!

    1. Post
      Author
      Matt Armstrong

      Hi Tina,

      Thank you so much for your kind words, i am pleased you enjoyed the story.
      We look forward to having you along with us in the futures.

      Many thanks
      Matt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *