No escape from the Savute Marsh lions
It was July 2015 and an enormous buffalo herd had taken residence for several days in the core of the Savute Marsh pride territory in Botswana, a pride that totals around 12 members and that has become expert in hunting this large herbivore. Many wildlife documentaries have been filmed in this area, with the pride also becoming synonymous with hunting elephants during the extreme dry season before the rains empty on the dry plains.
For several days we followed the lion pride, seeking to capture a a buffalo hunt during the hours of daylight, we knew with such a large herd in residence it was to be only a matter of time.
Leaving camp one morning we could see plumes of dust visible in the distance, as the thundering hooves of the buffalo herd disturbed the ground. Close by to where we had left the lions the evening prior, relaxing around a dry pan and close to an area called ‘Leopard Rock’. The anticipation of what the days game drive will bring is always cause for excitement, never knowing what nature will have in-store. However, the anticipation that morning was running at higher levels than normal! It is true that every day on safari is entirely different to every other day and what we encountered during the few hours after leaving camp that morning will forever be etched into our memories.
As we approached the herd it did not take too long for us to spot the lions, close by and lying in wait on the dusty track. For over 30 minutes the herd continued to move through the vegetation. Focused on transiting through the scrub and oblivious to what lay in wait. The lions were poised for the right moment, the herd was just too concentrated and too great in number for them to yet mount their attack. Their patience was impressive and their experience obvious.
As the majority of the herd passed it was then clear that the lead lioness was focusing her attention on an old buffalo bull trailing at the rear of the herd. Just seconds later the lioness literally exploded into action, followed by the rest of the pride. With military coordination they soon separated the old male from the fleeing herd, as the remainder of the herd bolted away.
Members of the twelve strong pride sought to over power their quarry as the buffalo valiantly tried to escape.
Each pride member taking it in turns to leap onto the buffalo in an attempt to bring it to the ground
Every which way that the buffalo tried to escape was thwarted by another onslaught from the lions, they were not going to give up, the lions were literally hanging on from every angle.
With the sub adult males also contributing to bring down their prey.
The frantic scene went on for over 40 minutes, and by now both the lions and buffalo were showing signs of exhaustion. Witnessing nature in the raw can indeed be very hard and watching an animal in distress while being predated is never an easy thing to experience. Despite witnessing countless kills you never become ‘desensitised’ and emotions certainly run high. However, such emotion is rationalised by understanding of how the ‘rules of nature’ are intended to play out and avoiding anthropomorphising how or what the animal may be ‘feeling’. Easy to say, but granted not always easy in practice!
However, despite the incredible photographic opportunities that we were being presented (with no other vehicles around!) and our ‘fortune of being so privileged to be able to experience natures raw power in the flesh we started to hope for a swift end, sooner rather than later.
As the buffalo was surrounded on yet another occasion it started to become clear that it no longer had any fight left. His last moments surrounded by a tiring pride, yet with a persistence that soon meant the buffalo succumbed to his inevitable fate.
For two days the buffalo satisfied the entire pride with plenty of food, then with just bones and hide left the pride abandoned the carcass for the ‘clean up squad’ (AKA Hyena) to move in and devour what little was left.