Being a guide is all about interpretation and anticipation. Where could the animals be moving and what they are going to do are probably the two most important questions we have to ask ourselves. Thankfully, one afternoon I was lucky enough to have my interpretations come true.
There had been reports of lions in an area on our reserve – Balule Nature Reserve in the Greater Kruger, South Africa – yet no one had actually had a good visual of them so far. I came across a herd of buffalo that weren’t too close to where these reports were coming, but they looked to be moving in that general direction. Due to the high levels of heat and humidity that day, there was no chance these lions would be active before sunset, so I took my game drive as planned but decided to check out the area after sunset. We weren’t disappointed.
As we rounded a corner, about half a kilometre away from where I had seen the buffalo herd, a sight greeted me that I will never forget. As the dust settled, in the middle of the road we could make out a male buffalo on its knees, being brought down by six lions. One had a hold on the buffalo’s throat; another had a sleeper hold around its mouth and nose, trying to suffocate the beast.
The other four had jumped on its back and were starting to tear at its flesh, trying to hold the buffalo down as it kicked and bellowed, trying to get back up.
Often buffalo will come to the aid of one another and have been known to chase the lions away, but not this time. Caught by surprise, the rest of the herd had fled seeming to know that this bull’s time was up. The struggle lasted about twenty minutes between predator and prey. His destiny was confirmed in his last breath as a bellow reverberated through the night air.
To witness a death is never an easy thing, emotions become mixed, yet we understand that for one to survive, sacrifices have to be made, it is only natural. Without the buffalo flesh, the lions would die and without the lions there would be an overpopulation of buffalo. Nature is always finely balanced.
The silence was broken; the lions had rested enough and started to dig in. We sat and watched in awe of these mighty creatures as they began to devour the buffalo, yet even with a carcass that big, they still fought over the meat. A crescendo of growling and snarling held us captivated.
The next morning we returned, the carcass had been dragged off the road and slightly into the bushes. With bellies extremely full after a night worth of feasting, the lions were still tearing chunks of flesh off bone and we watched them until they physically could not eat another morsel.
Pure gluttony, the lions were having the time of their lives, and who could blame them?