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Lions hunting buffalos, a trip report from Kruger


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Lions hunting buffalos, a trip report from Kruger

 

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PART 1. A cunning plan and a swift kill.

On a self-drive in Kruger, in June 2016, my wife Agnes and I witnessed some remarkable lion kills, only days apart, in the area between Tchokwane and Satara.

 It all started on June 5th with an elephant bull, having his mud shower on the far side of Kumana Dam.

A buffalo herd was approaching. The grumpy elephant stood his ground, nervously shaking his head, he didn’t want to share his spot with the buffalos. 437A9826-2.jpg.3625be16aae0943aa1a540cc686a4cd6.jpg

The herd was hesitating, and shifted to the right. At that point, we hadn’t seen any lion. But there was one, down in the high grass, about 400 meters away. 5Z5A2562.jpg.6456cab723fa018b51800297b38d36b3.jpg

 

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As the buffalos moved in his direction, he stood up, attentively observing the herd.

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Suddenly hell broke loose. With big strides the lion charged towards the buffalo, the herd scattered in panic.

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The buffalos and the lion ran off in a cloud of dust. We quickly drove in the same direction, and found the buffalo herd and the lion in an awkward standoff.

 

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The herd was confronting the lion, but the lion was looking over his shoulder, very focused on something else. What was going on?

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Agnes saw movement by the lake, we drove back, just in time to see a buffalo cow running into the bush. She was isolated from the herd. She was limping. The buffalo cow went for cover. Minutes passed.

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Two lionesses came into view, coming from the far side of the lake. They were tracking the cow, like hunting dogs, with the nose on the scent of the prey. They cornered the cow for a final showdown.

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The cow desperately tried to escape, twisting and turning, but the two experienced huntresses left her no chance.

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One lioness jumped on the back of the cow. As the victim turned her head to ward off the first attacker, the other grabbed her by the windpipe. We missed that picture, unfortunately, we had to move the car, our view got obstructed by the bush. The cow fell down, with the horns backwards planted in the ground and her mouth open in despair towards the sky. We heard some weak last bellowing

It was quickly over, in less than a minute. A swift clean kill.

 

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The male lion came to inspect the trophy. 

 

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The cunning tactics of the hunt were obvious. The three lions had set up an ambush by the lake. The two lionesses remained hidden. His job was to scatter the herd. A limping cow was lagging behind. While the male lion was chasing the herd, he knew what to expect from his ladies. We had witnessed a perfect premeditated plot. Isn’t it?

 

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The lionesses walked away from the carcass, without eating, although the male didn’t seem to mind their presence. Why didn’t they eat?  

 

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After a few minutes, the lionesses came back, with the playful cubs. This made the story perfect. The smart lionesses had left the cubs in hiding, before setting up the ambush by the lake. After the dangerous deed was done, they brought the little ones to the feast.

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There was no aggression in the pride during the feeding.

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Very quickly, the vultures came swooping down. The lions kept all eyes on them.

 

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The cubs were playing with the freshly killed prey, while the lionesses took some time to recuperate after the hunt. It all looked like an idyllic kill, picture perfect for a movie script. 437A9798.jpg.c74e5ee4a7381f78575bd496fd95a0f0.jpg

 

We returned a few hours later, the carcass had been butchered to a greater extend, and a dark maned male joined in.

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As we sat there for hours, we had ample time to reflect on what we had seen. Was this hunt a stroke of genius, a smart premeditated plan? Is a lion, or any animal, capable of anticipating to a virtual situation with a complex strategy ?

You might have liked the story, as I was developing my narrative around the presumed ingenious cooperation of the blond male and the lionesses. That’s what we humans want to hear. The story of cooperative strategy in hunting is endearing to people. We are projecting our way of thinking and our emotions into the animal world. To make the story even better, I could have given a name to each of the lions, like you see it in wildlife documentaries.

I think the reality of this hunt was rather basic. The two lionesses went hunting as a sister team. They were waiting in ambush by the lake for an opportunity. The males were useless: the dark male was away, the blond male was sleeping. The cubs were left somewhere in a safe place. As the buffalos came to drink, the blond male spoiled it. He was surprised by the approaching buffalo herd. He had no better idea than to charge. But the sisters were efficient. They grabbed the opportunity of the limping cow. That’s all there was, I think.    

 

 

The next day, we went to see what was left. One lioness with cubs was still there, frantically defending the carcass against the vultures.

 

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Most of the flesh of the carcass had been eaten. The lioness tried to pull it away, to hide it under the bushes.

 

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With fascination, the cubs were following the actions of the lioness.

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The carcass was reduced to a macabre monster, with horns, hollow dead eyes, sinister teeth, a skeleton with a black frayed coat, and some bloody flesh. The monster was moving, as the lioness kept pulling. The cubs were under the spell of this spooky creature, like children on Halloween. (Is this too much anthropomorphism ?)

 

END OF PART ONE

 

Edited by ajma
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michael-ibk

Wow, a terrific sequence in word and picture, bravo! What a great sighting!

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PART 2  A cruel and messy drama. (Not for sensitive viewers !)

Two days later, on June 7th ,  about 20 km to the North of Kumana, we witnessed a very different kill. A big buffalo bull was brought down by a group of 8 lionesses, with cubs.  

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When we arrived on the scene, the prey was still alive, with his horns pointed in the ground, the muzzle upright, with lionesses and cubs all over his body. One lioness was holding his nose in a painful bite.

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It was a gruesome scene. The poor bull kept on bellowing loudly, his feet were thrashing, he tried to lift his head.

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At some point he almost managed to break free, but the feisty lioness didn’t loosen her deadly grip. She was tossed up by the mighty bull, but she held on to his snout. ( you see the wound on her leg ?).

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We were hoping that the other lionesses would grab the trachea, to expedite the execution, but they didn’t. The lionesses were biting his back, they started feeding while the bull was still alive.

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The agony of the bull was way too long, more than 40 minutes, difficult for us to watch. Then it was over. She loosened her grip. Triumphant.

The bull must have died from shock and the loss of blood. The bite of the lioness over the muzzle was not wide enough to close the buffalo’s respiratory system and to provoke suffocation.

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What a contrast with the swift and efficient kill by the two agile lionesses two days earlier. The myth of the quick merciful fast killing by lions was broken. This was a very messy kill.

There was no male lion around. It seems that in general a big male is required to hold and suffocate a buffalo bull with a bite over the muzzle.

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Unusual to me was the presence of the young cubs at the killing scene. We were guessing that the lone buffalo stumbled upon the group of lionesses with cubs. The lionesses seized the opportunity and launched the attack, with the cubs present, without any plan and with no male lion around to help. The result of this improvisation was this clumsy kill of the hapless bull.

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The feast  was just as the kill had been: brutal, dirty and bloody. 

 

We call these lions cruel, we tend to judge their behavior with human ethical standards, we praise them when they seem to be efficient, smart, brave, cunning, we admire their presumed intelligence and we even hope for signs of compassionate behavior, we are disappointed about vicious traits such as laziness, temper, cruelty, jealousy  and injustice. This is wrong and irrelevant; we are projecting our own standards into their instinctive lives. It’s anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism.

It should be the other way around: we have the moral obligation to apply our ethical standards to judge our own behavior towards animals.

 

END OF PART TWO

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Game Warden

Wow @ajma Brilliant photo reportage and what a sighting!

 

Thanks for posting.

 

Matt

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Zubbie15

What a great pair of sightings, especially in such a short time frame. Thanks for sharing. 

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Great story and amazing photos, thanks for sharing. 

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xelas

nature at work. It is not always a paradise, out there. Thanks @ajma for showing us your incredible sightings.

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mtanenbaum

How amazing to see both these sightings in one trip, and in broad daylight as well! Incredible photos and what luck for you to witness these epic battles! I have only seen lions hunting on TV--I've seen lots of lions during my 3 trips to Africa, but never hunting. I've felt lucky if I've seen them walking around since usually they seem to be sleeping, like my fat house cat at home.

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Thank you all for your nice comments on part 1 and 2. It was indeed quite extraordinary to see 3 kills in one safari. We've been to Kruger many times, also for us the lion sightings in our 2016 edition remain exceptional. 

I'm now finishing part 3, I will post it right away. 

JM 

 

 

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PART THREE: The third kill

 

We couldn’t believe our luck. In the same area, 5 days later, June 13th,  there was another buffalo kill.

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Three male lions had killed a buffalo. It was only a few kilometers away from the first kill, near Kumana lake. It could have been the same pride, with the blond male.

This time, the males had probably done the deed by themselves. They were heavily panting, exhausted from the hunt, it took quite some time before they started to work the carcass.

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After quite a while, the rest of the pride showed up. Lionesses and cubs.

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The males behaved affectionately with the cubs.

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Then the males started to butcher the carcass, the intestines, the stomach. The lionesses and the cubs joined in.

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The nose of the buffalo had been maimed, so I guess that the males made the kill by the muzzle-method.

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The big family kept on eating in relative peace, there was constant growling and snarling, but no fighting.

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A lioness trotted away from the banquet, with a swagger, the ears flattened. One of the males followed her. The male was covered in muck and blood. He gently tapped her back.

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She let him have his way, that’s what she was up to, anyway.

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The mating couple was no more than fifty meters away from the rest of the pride. None of the other males took any interest. The pair didn’t return to the family dinner. They had other things to do. 

END OF PART THREE

 

 

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PART FOUR, honoring the beauty of the beast.

While I was writing these lion stories, I felt that something was missing. I didn’t honor the beauty of this magnificent animal. I was portraying the lion as cruel, dirty and vicious.

On the last day of our stay in Kruger, on June 19th, at 6 o’clock in the morning, between Skukuza and Lower Sabie, a beautiful lion couple granted us the privilege to make different pictures.

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It was a mating pair, both perfect representatives of the species.

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The sweet morning light looked promising, but the lions were partly hidden, behind and under the thorny bushes. (look at her eyes !)

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The pretty female came in full view, in the early golden sunlight. But the male was turning his back, partly hidden by the bushes, he kept looking away or he was dosing with his eyes closed.

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For a second, in a beam of sunlight, he looked up, I manoeuvered the 600mm tele exactly in the only spot where I had a tunnel of free view trough the branches, just enough to make this regal portrait.

Lions are indeed beautiful.

Thanks for watching,

JM

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Unbelievable - All these sightings in one trip, fantastic sightings.

Thanks for sharing @ajma

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POST SCRIPTUM

 

While I was sifting through my pictures for the report on the lions and the buffalo, I couldn’t possibly ignore the many other sightings we enjoyed in those amazing three weeks in June 2016. I just add a few, as a post scriptum.

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I find elephants to be in some way difficult to photograph; to catch the towering mass of the beast in a picture, its dynamic movement, the swaying of the massive head and the ears, the intimidating force.

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Fighting stallions in sweet morning light.

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Cheetah.. it was a very early morning sighting, a covered foggy sky.

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This picture is blurred by too many twigs and leaves. But I keep it, because it holds the essence of the stealthy efficient hunter, it highlights the senses: eyes, whiskers, tongue.

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The pictures of the sable antelopes, females and young, remain exceptional to me because in the first 3 years we went to Kruger, we  didn’t see any sable !

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Pied kingfishers are very common, but the water droplet and the unsharp wingtips make the difference for the picture.

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A leopard on its prey, under a thick low bush, next to the road. The eyes of the predator define the picture.

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In all my previous pictures of the green wood hoopoo, the bird was all but green, just blue. This was an opportunity to catch all the iridescent colors.

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This one I like for the low stealthy movement, and the underside of the paws.

 

Thanks for watching!

JM (ajma)

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Bush dog

@ajma

 

Thanks for sharing!  "Merci bien" or" Dank U wel"!

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Peter Connan

Amazing trip! Thank you.

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xelas

Great PS for an excellent TR!

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adamt123

Superb report @ajma! I especially like your Sable antelopes – I was fortunate to see them myself once in 2016 (two males and two females), but have not seen them again.

 

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  • 1 month later...
offshorebirder

Thanks very much for posting this trip report @ajma.

 

You captured the action very well.

 

And you did some good guiding your self-drives!

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AKR1

@Ajma - magnificent images and captures of lion Buffalo encounters with a successful kill. Thanks for posting this. 

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