Written & photographed by Greg McCall-Peat
I am often approached by our guests and asked about what has been my best sighting during all my time spent out in the bush in the Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa. The truth is, it is really a difficult question to answer, as we get to see some really special and unforgettable things – but seeing predators on the hunt for me is always a stand out opportunity.
One exceptional sighting happened a couple of weeks ago and it involved two of Africa’s ultimate enemies: lion and buffalo. That morning, we found a large herd of Cape buffalo grazing peacefully while making their way towards one of our waterholes. We quickly realised they were not alone, as trailing them were two relatively young male lions.
One of the buffalo was lagging at the back of the herd with an injured hind leg. He was limping badly and this is exactly what lions look for when hunting these formidable bovines. Hunting a buffalo has to be a very calculated effort and lions will often test a herd to find weak spots. Today, however, this opportunity was almost gifted to the lions and half the work was already done.
Time was not on the lions’ side as the heat of the day began to set in, and they took up a resting spot not too far off from the buffalo herd. We knew that it was only a matter of time before the lions tried their luck and it would probably happen in the evening as it cooled off, so we left the lions to their cat nap with the intention of returning later in the evening.
As luck would have it, a multitude of incredible sightings on the afternoon drive hindered our plans of returning to the lions. Nevertheless, once back at camp and having dinner, the sound of thundering hooves, grunts, bellows and splashing water signaled the buffalo herds arrival at the waterhole in front of camp.
An hour passed before we heard the lions begin to roar. Usually when lions announce their presence like this, it’s done in about 15 minute intervals, but these males were roaring constantly.
Thinking that there must be some sort of action going on, we quickly grabbed a vehicle and headed out. We stopped every few minutes to listen for roars to guide us, but the roars had subsided and a deathly silence had fallen on the African night.
Then, field guide intuition kicked in and I turned the vehicle around. We had driven about 100m when I caught the reflection of eyes in the road ahead of us, but it wasn’t a lion; it was a newborn buffalo calf abandoned by its herd and alone. Witnessing such a scenario is extremely difficult as every fibre of your being wants to help the little one. It wasn’t long before we heard the grass rustling behind the vehicle.
Was it the buffalo’s mother coming back for her youngster? Or was it an opportunist responding to the distress calls? As we turned to have a look behind us, the ominous shape of a male lion materialised out of the shadows and into the moonlight, slowly making his way straight towards the buffalo calf.
As the lion got to the calf, it did not make the kill as quickly as we had anticipated. For a few seconds there was a sense of calm as the lion gazed down at the calf standing in front of it. But as quickly as the magic moment happened, it ended and the lion lunged onto the helpless calf and with a swift bite to the neck it was all over.
Suddenly another male lion arrived on the scene and the two began to fight over the small carcass, each one grabbing a piece of the kill and not wanting to let go.
While it is not always easy to see this type of sighting, it is nature working like a well-oiled machine and death for one, means life for another. Moments like these remain in your memory forever and you just have to be grateful to be able to play witness to all that nature has to offer.