Sunday, 28 October 2012

Buffalo vs Lion

Mikumi NP is the closest national park in terms of distance from Dar es Salaam, which makes it an attractive option as a weekend away for residents.  Having said that, we've only been there twice, but our second trip gave us one of our best action sequences in the bush... lion vs buffalo.

We spent 2 nights at Mikumi, and had seen plenty of antelope, elephant, buffalo, and even caught of a leopard at night near our bungalow.  We'd also tracked down a pair of mating lions - well not hard to track, since they were in the main game viewing area of the park.  After our 2 nights, we were to head out on Sunday morning, so decided to centre our last game drive around this popular area. 

Because we started first thing in the morning, we were rewarded to find 4 lions on the road, and with only one other car around - quite a change as this is the area where everyone is allowed to get out there car - making it quite a noisy place.

It was the mating pair we had seen the previous day, and another 2 lionesses, just hanging on the road.  They leisurely walked down the road like they owned it ;) before heading to the side where there is an steep climb down to an empty river bed.  We thought they may cross it so headed around to the other side, hoping to carry on following.

But they had other ideas and when we arrived we found that they'd gone back up the opposite side and were rest on the side of the bank.  After a while, they didn't seem like they were going to move much, so we headed back across the dry bed and onto Hippo Pools, where we spent some relaxing time with a herd of elephants that had come to drink at the waterhold.

But it wasn't going to take too long for us to get back to the lions :)  We arrived just as a herd of buffalo had arrived on the other side of the bank. They seemed to know that there were lions about, because they were tightly bunched together and pretty alert.  Just as well, because one of the lionesses decided to take a chance and snuck up the bank, trying to catch the buffalo by suprise and scatter them. 

It worked to a degree, and the buffalo ran... but only a few metres, before turning around and charging her - that's when she turned tail (well the part of the tail that she had) and ran!  You always think of the king of the jungle as fearless, so it's pretty amusing to see a fully grown lioness running away...
But she was not going to be put off and did this quite a few times.  Of course, now the buffalo were ready for her, and charged her back each time. 

The other lions obviously didn't think this was worth pursuing, because they hardly raised their heads, but the lone lioness persisted for about 40 minutes, each time without reward, and eventually even she gave up and joined her sisters in the bush.  We were happy with the action we'd seen, but there was a twist in the tail...

While we'd been watching the herd on the far side, there was actually another herd of buffalo on the same side we were that had gone to drink at the waterhole, and were now headed back to what looked like directly in the path of the lions.  We could see that they wanted to cross over to the other side where the other buffalo herd was still standing and watching.  The herd seemed to be unsure, but that may have been because of the cars around - quite a few had come up to watch the lion / buffalo interaction and it looked like the buffalo were more nervous about crossing through the cars, than taking on a few lions ;)

So by mutual agreement and a fair amount of hand gestures, we juggled the cars around until there was a wide berth that would allow the buffalo to cross if they wanted.  And so it started...

The buffalo herd started to get a bit bolder closing in on the lions that were still under the bushes.  And the lions were starting to become more alert, putting their heads up as if to assess
whether a chase was worth it...  And it seemed to be because 2 of the lionesses got up and headed towards the buffalo - then started chasing! 

Of course we expected a panic and buffalo to scatter everywhere, but after a few steps the whole herd turned around as one, and headed straight back towards the 2 lionesses.  It wasn't a fair fight ;) The lions took off! One big bull in particular seemed to have decided that he wasn't taking any backward steps and charged the lionesses.  With tails between their legs, they slinked back to the other lions...

But not for long... one of the lionesses was back heading for the herd, and the same thing played out again - lion charge, buffalo run, buffalo turn, lion run :)  This interaction went on for about half an hour, with 5 or 6 mock charges from both sides; even the male lion got involved, but not for long before he headed back to the shade of his bush - lazy... would rather watch the lionesses do the dirty work ;)

And then something we didn't expect at all happened... The lead bull decided that enough was enough, and a few lions wasn't going to stop him from getting to the other side.  With him leading the charge, all hell broke loose.  A massive wall of buffalo stormed towards the lions, past them, down into the dry riverbed and up to the other side.  It was just a massive cloud of dust and the sound of hooves beating as a 50 strong buffalo herd powered through - it was unbelievable!

Stunned, we watched this all unfold until the last buffalo had crossed up the bank and reached the other side.  The herd stopped, looked back and then slowly moved off as the dust settled.  The first question we had was what happened to the lions?  It had all happened so fast, were the lions caught by suprise just like we were? 

After a bit of a mad jostle with the cars to get to the edge of the bank we finally looked down, and there in the river bank were the 3 lionesses... with a young buffalo - they'd managed to get one!  How they did it we have no idea - maybe one of the buffalo had tripped on the way down, or maybe the lions had risked been trampled by the herd to grab one, but the end result was that they had caught and killed one - it was amazing to think that they had managed it. 

For the next 30 minutes we watched the lionesses devour their prey; most interesting was that the male lion was nowhere to be seen in all of this - we eventually found him about 50 meters away resting under a tree. Strange to think that he wouldn't try and grab his lion's share :) 

All in all, it was an amazing sequence of events, from the build up with the original herd of buffalo, through the standoff and then to see such a charge by the buffalo.  For those that have written off Mikumi, don't - while it may not seem as "wild" as the other parks, the animals still are, and it makes for fantastic wildlife viewing!

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