Wildlife Report – October 2009

By Patrick O’Brien on November 1, 2009

For this months report we are doing something different than the usual wildlife report. I have decided to write about only one story this month as this great experience in my opinion cannot be covered in only a few lines of the normal reports. We hope you will enjoy it.

I was extremely fortunate to witness a spectacular lion hunt of three full-grown male lions hunting a herd of more than 300 Cape buffalo. As a field guide and wildlife photographer I wish that more guests could have seen this incredible sighting that morning.

It took place early one morning in October. The temperature was already climbing and a very hot day lay ahead in the African Bush. The three “Timbavati male lions” were located at one of the big dams resting in the shade of a tree. Very few game drive vehicles were on drive that morning and I decided to respond to the sighting before it got too hot. I assumed that in the heat, the lions were looking for a spot to rest up for the day. However, this was not the case, as shortly after arriving at the sighting the three big boys arose and marched off purposely in a Northerly direction as if on a mission. The lions continued on steadily with us in hot pursuit following them through the thickets. The guests on my vehicle of course loved it as the lions were doing something constructive for a change. At one point the lions came to halt listening intently to their surroundings. This gave me a chance to switch the engine off and admire these beauties. At this point while chatting to the guests, I caught a faint bellow from a buffalo herd to the north. At that point it sounded as if the herd was still well off in the distance. The lions however had other ideas, they stared intently in the direction of the bellows and it was then that I realized that these guys wanted more than cornflakes for breakfast. They immediately bee lined towards the bovines who were still not visible to lion or us. The terrain made it tough for me to follow the lions manoeuvring through the thick Acacia bush in my Land Rover. At times I had to slow right down to first gear to prevent damage to the vegetation as I zigzagged between the mazes of trees.

Suddenly out the corner of my eye I noticed one of the males charging off with the other two males closely behind. At this point I lost all visual of the lions for about thirty seconds as I hastily drove in the direction that the lions had disappeared. I caught up with them to find that they had already downed a buffalo calf that they had snatched out of the herd. The calf lay motionless on its side still alive but unable to move probably due to the massive shock it sustained from the impact as the lions knocked it down. Still alive and unable to get up, the herd responded aggressively and moved with intent towards the lions. The lions reacted defensively to this retaliation by the buffalo as the shear number of the herd drove the lions off the young buffalo. This titanic battle was far from being over. The buffalo took back the calf and were standing now over it to protect it from the lions. The lions backed off to about ten meters from the buffalo growling and snarling with intent to attack again at any minute. With an explosive charge one of the males counter attacked the herd of buffalo and charged straight towards them with the other two males as back up. The herd of bovines immediately turned and stampeded away in a cloud of red dust leaving the calf again at the mercy of the hungry cats. This was a crucial moment in the battle and a deciding factor that would decider the victor of this encounter in the end. The lions

Realised at this moment that even though the herd had approached them they could easily be driven off by a counter aggressive response from the lions. For the next fifteen or so minutes the herd kept coming back as stampede after stampede the lions and buffalo toiled for the calf. By this time the calf was critically injured and there was no hope of saving it. The lions knew this too and merely played a game of chess with the buffalo, “Your move and then mine with check mate imminent”

With one final onslaught, the herd made a last asserted effort to free the calf and bombarded the lions. This time they meant business! The lions backed off in a flash and immediately lay down flat in the grass facing the buffalos growling with anger. The buffalo then in a very unusual behaviour started to horn the now dead calf as if attacking it. I have seen this kind of behaviour before and I put it down to pure adrenalin, anger and possible fear. More than likely they are attacking the scent of the lions on the dead calf.

Two large male buffalo bulls pushed forward to within an arms length of the lions and one of the lions immediately pounced onto the back of one of the bulls but was immediately tossed off by the bucking animal. The male lions quickly moved back to the carcass and placed their bodies on top of the dead calf to cover it an attempt to prevent the buffalo from getting to it.

The battle was finally over and won. It took the lions twenty minutes to win this battle that morning. The vocalization that was generated by both the lions and buffalo was deafening at times. A cloud of dust hung thick overhead reminiscent of smoke smouldering from cannons after an intense battle. The guests were shocked at what has just happened and took a few minutes to gather their thoughts and realize that they had witnessed something very rarely seen.

Fortunately a film crew currently working in the reserve was present and managed to capture the whole story as it unfolded. A video clip from one of our guests of the battle can also be seen on our web blog.

Take care from Patrick and the rest of the rangers and trackers.

Report By Patrick O‘Brien (Head Ranger)

Photography by Patrick O’Brien.
Buffalo defence line.
Take down
The calf here is still alive
The buffalo tried to rescue the calf
 A second charge from the herd.
Lions re-take the carcass
A great display of team work
The final stand down
Finally victory

One thought on “Wildlife Report – October 2009

  1. Great report Patrick! Thanks!

    How lucky was that for the film crew…being in the right place at the right time! cool…

    ps…too nerve-racking for me!

    Stay well, stay safe.


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