It has been a long winter, the days have been shorter, the nights longer. The chill in the air, the dryness and the mist. It is a time of struggle, a time where animals search far and wide for their daily needs. For water and grazing, fruits, flowers, nectar and insects to feed on and survive. However, for some, for the apex predators, it is a time of plenty.
As winter draws to a close, let us think back to the struggles endured. The intense cold and the lack of necessities for survival, all of this, these creatures have been faced with. It is something that affects some more than others and particularly the large herds of Buffalo. As the land begins to dry up, the seep lines fail to run, the river level drops and the pans evaporate, leaving behind a bitter reminder of summers abundance, the grasses become hard and dry, almost unpalatable. Yet, these large herds of herbivores, in this case, the grazers, continue to move, to search and to survive.
With a lack of vitamins in the soils and the grass, the Buffalo herds need to move larger distances and without constant and sufficient nutrition they begin to weaken. They lose condition, become slim, move slower and rest longer.
The Sparta pride now consists of 9 members, 3 adult females, just under 6 years of age, and along with them is a group of sub-adult lions, their offspring, that age between 16-18 months old. Many hungry mouths to feed, and what better way to indulge than to trail large herds of grazers. An ultimate prize is something substantial like a Buffalo, and this is where it gets interesting.
In many senses of these words, Lions and Buffalo are ultimate enemies, if you remove other predators like Hyena, and match up groups of animals that create ultimate wildlife experiences, it would be to place a pride of Lions in the path of a large herd of Buffalo.
I had the rare privilege of such a sighting recently, the first Lion vs Buffalo interaction in my 3 year guiding career, and it was an intense affair. Back and forth they went, grunting and snarling, charging, stampeding and scurrying in all directions. Above, two of the Majingilane males, the power behind the operation.
In this particular sighting, there was the added presence of 2 Majingilane males to add the strength needed for ultimate success. We found them in the thick mist of an early winter morning, each Lion, noses to the wind, the fresh scent of a Buffalo herd, and as the mist began to rise, the Pride began their pursuit.
A social cat, and here all honours go to Dad, these sub-adults know he is needed for success. Strategy, confidence, communication, stealth, power, strength, hunger and possibly some stupidity, all the things needed for this to be a rewarding exercise.
The chase begins, the lead lioness attacks at a water hole.
Hot on the heels of the Buffalo as they run for their lives.
The Lioness peers over her shoulder for assistance.
A full speed chase, power on power. Strength matching strength.
Unfortunately in this particular sighting the ultimate price was not paid and both parties went their separate ways. Agitated Buffalo, and hungry Lions. But a lesson for all. Especially for the young Lions, certainly not a task lost into the depth of the unknowns of nature, but one that will be ingrained into the young Lions minds and mine for some time to come.
For the past four days, the Sparta pride has been following a herd of Buffalo, close to 400 in number, and until now they have been unsuccessful. Will tonight be the night?
Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland