Written by: Hadley Pierce
Less than three minutes into our afternoon game drive with Kafunta Safaris, we rounded a corner and came across a herd of buffalo coming down to the calm Luangwa River. It being just after 3pm, the air was stiff with heat and a mirage seemed to waver above the water, making it difficult to see the buffalo in focus.
We continued driving along the river, eventually descending onto our pontoon which slid across the Luangwa River in between pods of hippos. Pulling up onto the sand, the guide and tracker got out to lock the hubs and then turned into the deeper sand (to the groans of a protesting engine).
As we drove through the sand towards the buffalo, we got our first clear glimpse of just how massive the herd actually was. Easily 200 buffalo strong, they kicked up clouds of dust just by walking down the banks towards the water.
The youngest buffalo seemed to be the first ones down to the water and we watched them for close to twenty minutes. As some of them turned around and began making their way back to the bank from which they descended, our guide Abel pointed out a small herd of elephants that was making its way to go down the same game path the buffalo were coming up.
When the elephants got within 20 metres of the game path, they began to show off their size and power, shaking their heads, pushing their ears out, and standing tall with heads held high above the buffalo. I wondered if the buffalo might give the elephants a bit of a hard time and stand their ground for a while — a battle between two of the Big Five! I got no such battle. At the first signs of the elephants’ aggression, the buffalo on the game path took off, trying to get out of the elephants’ way as quickly as possible.
It was made very clear that the elephants were the dominant of these two species when it came to right of way on a water game path. The buffalo that were still making their way from the river to the game path went out of their way to give the elephants a wide birth.
Only once there were about 100 metres between the two species did the animals seem to relax a bit, walking to and from the water unperturbed. This allowed everyone on the vehicle to get great shots of two Big Five species seemingly walking harmoniously side by side.
When the elephants finally made it down to the water’s edge, only the daggaboys, the old buffalo bulls, were still drinking and they slowly turned and gave way to the grey pachyderms.
We were lucky enough to sit with the elephants as they drank and played in the river, slowly crossing from just in front of us to the other side of the river—all with a beautiful backdrop of the Chindeni Hills. With close to 30 elephants in the Luangwa River and over 200 buffalo up on the edge of the river bank, we all sat in silence taking in what had been a very special sighting of the giants of Africa.