There is a saying by Karen Blixen, from the movie Out of Africa, (one of my all-time favourite movies by the way… so if you haven’t watched it, then please do yourself a favour and do.)
It goes like this… “You know you are truly alive, when you're living among lions.” Since I’ve moved to Kruger, it has been a quote that has stuck in my head, like a favourite song on repeat, and every time I get to see these beautiful, fascinating creatures – I hear it in my head.
Winter time is my favourite in the bush, there’s less water, which means the bush is not as green or as dense, and the animals tend to move to where the water is, and with us being situated on the Crocodile River, it's definitely in our favour. And with more plains game…. The predators follow – or should I say the royalty follows.
The nightly bush choir also seems to be much louder. I’m not sure if it’s because the noisy frogs aren’t taking over like they usually do in the summer, or because the bush is not so dense; the noise seems to travel further, which reaches us while we are sitting out on our viewing deck having a braai, or while we are curled up in our warm beds. Whatever the case, it is amazing; the lions call all through the night, the hyenas “whoop it up” as my Gramps like to say, and the hippos argue with one another, while the jackals cry, and the night jars whistle…
Then in the very early crisp mornings, we put on our big wooly gowns, brew a pot of hot coffee and make our way to the viewing deck to watch the sun rise and the fog lift from the river – It is simply magical. This is a tradition we like to do, especially when the royalty is visiting, and by royalty I mean, our beautiful pride of lions that frequent our area.
We have an interesting pride that live in this area of the Kruger, they are pretty famous throughout, as they are known as a super pride. The last I heard their was 27 of them in the pride, but this number could have dropped by now. They break off in to smaller groups to hunt, as obviously 27 lions trying to feed off even a buffalo, will not suffice for so many hungry tummies.
In January of this year, two of the adolescent males were sadly found dead, I’m not actually sure what the cause was, but from what I gather, they were having a tough time as the plains game were in such good condition with all of the rain that we had in the area, and the lions were finding it difficult to hunt. Now I’m no lion expert by any means, so I am only telling you what I have heard. You’d be surprised at how “the bush news” can travel through and around the Kruger National park. Due to this, they collared two of the other adolescent males to be able to monitor them, which makes it pretty easy for us to be able to identify them.
A couple of weeks ago, we spotted five of the Vurhami pride (2 adolescent males, a female cub, and 2 females) in front of our house. They were in Superb condition, eyeing out a lonely dagga buffalo boy (** See definition at end of blog**) who was munching on some reeds on a sand bank in the river below.
We watched as they quietly stalked the buffalo and eventually surrounded him. Poor guy, didn’t stand a chance, he didn’t even know they were there. At one point, one of the lions was literally sitting a couple of meters from him and he didn’t even realise.
I sat there shaking, with a lump in my throat; It was intense, the cattle egrets noticed before the buff did, and flew away, just in time…
And then before I even blinked my eyes, all of the lions jumped on him simultaneously, and he made off in to the reeds, bucking, as the lions were clawed in to his back, hanging on for dear life.
Dagga Boys, are tough old fighters, and he fought against them for about two hours before he eventually gave in. I kept asking, why they didn’t just kill him and relieve him of his suffering, but the answer was that they were too afraid to go anywhere near his sizey horns.
I also noted that most of the lions in the pride were young, and the large (In fact massive, in my opinion) female was teaching them how to hunt I think, as she stood back a lot of the time, just watching while the battle ensued with a proud look on her face.
The first few hours were tough for the buff, and just as tough for me I think. He cried a lot, and even now when I close my eyes now I can still hear him crying. It broke my heart, but I just had to keep saying to myself that this is nature. It’s all part of the circle of life. There is a theory, that they don’t feel a thing because of all the adrenaline running through their body – I really hope this is the case.
By the end of the great fight between buffalo and lion, he had drowned himself in the river. He just put his tired face in to the water, and left it there, he had given up.
The lions didn’t eat much the first day, it was quite strange actually as when they began the hunt they looked fat and definitely not hungry to me. The problem was that half of the buffalo was lying in the river, and he was too heavy for them to move. This resulted in many crocodiles trying to steal a bite. The lions would growl at them, and then they’d back off for a while and then try their luck again.
I spent the afternoon watching them; they were covered in mud and blood, they took turns between the shady reeds, and the dead buffalo.
At one point in the afternoon a breeding herd of Elephant, waltzed by, apparently not one bit concerned by the lions enjoying their meal, on the other side of the river bank.
I woke up early the next morning, before sunrise, so I could spend a few hours watching them before I had to go out for the day. They were so fat, and had eaten a rather large portion of the buff.
You won't believe it, if I tell you that a small group of about four dagga boys had now made their way down to the river again for their daily wallow, and were lying just opposite the lions on another sand bank. They were watching them, with careful eyes, but the lions were so fat and full by that point, they could barely move let alone walk.
They spent the next couple of days there, and it was bliss to watch them and hear them at night.
The little cub (not actually that little) was the cutest, at one point in the late afternoon, as golden hour was upon us, she took guard, and actually climbed inside the buffalo (well what was left of it), to protect it from the vultures that had arrived. I thoroughly enjoyed her charging them from time to time.
By day three, the scavengers had arrived in full force; wakes of vultures, marabou storks, three hyenas and a lonely (and very nervous) black backed jackal.
But the lions, weren’t ready to give in yet, they came out from the reeds as the sun was beginning to set, and kept watch over what was left, the big female actually chased the hyenas up the hill at one point. Reminded me of Lion King.
The next morning the lions had moved off, and I couldn’t even see any of the buffalo left. Between them and the scavengers every single scrap was cleaned up. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would’ve had no idea that our hungry, royal visitors had even paid us a visit.
Dagga Boy: An old, and usually incredibly cantankerous buffalo who has been kicked out of the herd by younger bulls, or has fallen behind due to their need for softer vegetation