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,
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