Battle of the Opportunists - Timbavati Tales #5 [GRAPHIC IMAGES]
Sitting with a large herd of buffalos one summer’s morning as they all gathered around a small waterhole to quench their thirst, I just had an expectation that something exciting was about to happen. Yes, I know I get this feeling often, and it usually turns out to be a false alarm, but today was different. I could feel it.
As the herd was slowly moving away from the waterhole, I kept checking behind me to see if the lions I could envisage in my mind were coming through the bush to look for breakfast of their own, but each time I looked, I saw nothing. It was then that one of the buffalo calves started acting very strangely, and to this day, I am still not sure what was going on? But basically, the little calf couldn’t stand! It was as if someone had disconnected his legs from his body and his attempts to get back on his feet were futile. The mother and a few other buffalos gathered around the calf, but on realising that it was a lost cause, they moved off. In desperation, the calf started to distress call with the characteristic bleating of a buffalo calf, well, in distress!
While this did have the desired effect and brought the mother and her aides back to the calf’s side, the lure of the safety of the herd as it moved off proved too much for most of the adults, and they abandoned the calf. The mother hung around a bit longer as the calf continued to bellow across the bushveld, and it didn’t take a genius to know what was coming. Even the mother, possibly also realising that the “lunch bell” had just been rung decided to go against her motherly instincts and move off, leaving the calf alone..........well, as we were soon to find out, not as alone as we had thought.
I looked into the tree line a short distance behind the calf, and there watching intently through the trees was a lioness. It had happened in a much shorter time than I had imagined it would, and while my money had been on the resident clan of hyenas to show up first, it was a lioness from the Machaton Pride that was quickest to respond. Exactly how long she had been standing watching is uncertain, but I like to think that her presence in the area was what had alerted my primeval survival instinct – hidden under far too many years of being surrounded by buildings, people and Blackberrys – but then again, it was probably just a lucky guess!
Whatever it was, the lioness was here, and she had no doubt been waiting patiently for the protective mother to move off; in fact, I suspect she was well aware of the presence of the lioness, and hence didn’t hang around once her “support crew” left.
As soon as the mother was out of sight, the lioness tentatively approached the little calf lying on the ground, and stopped for a second, as if she was wondering if this really was going to be so easy! Well, it was, sort of! She grabbed the little calf and ran off towards some cover, but before she could get there, a second lion emerged to join the party; it was her 4 year old son who never quite got the memo telling him it was time to leave home (even his three new step dad’s were not able to kick him out the pride; talk about a mommy’s boy!). The problem with this little mommy’s boy was that he was indeed quite a bit bigger than mommy; and once a tug-o-war started with the poor little buffalo calf, there was only going to be one winner, and he effortless pulled the meal and his mom with him before he eventually settled and growled his discontent at now having to actually share this meal with his mother.
These two lions were not the only ones that had received this invitation to a meal, and within a minute, the first of the Rockfig hyena clan members arrived; it was the scar-necked matriarch, and seconds later, two of her clan members joined her. Realising that they were outnumbered, they gave a rallying call, and almost immediately the vocalisations of three other hyenas could be heard excitedly getting closer from all directions! With six pack members versus two lions, things were about to get interesting.
The lions seemed to actually be paying no attention to the gathering hyenas, and the male was still too focussed on getting the lion’s share of this little meal – so much so that the first time he reacted to the hyenas was when one cheeky member came millimetres away from biting the tip of his tail! This got his attention and he intensified his growling at both his mom and the hyenas – the latter were putting on a vocal performance that would have made Freddy Mercury proud, and to just sit and listen to this battle of opportunistic scavengers was something that will live on in my mind for a long, long time. Not to be out done, even the little buffalo calf joined in! Yes, after almost ten minutes of being pulled and even fed on by these two lions, the poor little thing was still alive!!! So whoever says that wild dogs are cruel killers have not watched lions taking their time to kill their quarries.
As the bone-crunching intensified, and the calf’s bellows stopped, the hyenas stood around a bit stunned. Clearly they were not as intimidating as they had thought! In fairness to them, they added much to this encounter, and might even have got an Oscar nomination for their performance, but with the presence of a male lion, albeit a young one, they never really stood a chance, and as if conceding defeat, they saved their energy and fell asleep about 6-7m away from the feeding lions; hoping, I guess, to salvage a few scraps from the after-party.
Exactly how much they got to eat shall remain one of my life’s great unsolved mysteries – okay, maybe not – but after having spent almost 2 hours of my morning with them, the lure of bacon and eggs back at the lodge was enough to pull us away, and we left the two fat-bellied lions still surrounded by bunch of hyenas wishing that they had only been quicker off the mark – maybe next time? Still, I don’t recall my breakfast that morning quite as well as I do this battle of the opportunists!