December 2023

Lessons learnt the hard way

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Lessons learnt the hard way

It is mid-December as the short rains continue to pound the plains of western Serengeti. The wildebeest and zebra herds have moved south traversing briefly the area from their return from the north. These species count as the bulk of prey to most of the lion prides in the Serengeti ecosystem, and especially here in the Western Corridor. Prides here will hunt more wildebeest and zebras as their favoured prey. It is an easy hunt but when they move on, the lions have to start learning how to go for more formidable prey which proves to be tough to bring down.

This is a lesson that needs to be learnt and passed on to younger members of the pride.

On one of our afternoon game drives we went out searching for the Butamtam Pride. They hadn’t been seen for a week and we were determined to find them. We drove everywhere in the areas that we suspected to find them, but with no luck.

We were almost about to give up the search as it started to rain. Suddenly one of the guests called out, "Why are the buffaloes running?" We stopped to put our binoculars up and to our amazement saw lions being chased by buffaloes.

We drove to the scene carefully and sensitively - nice and slow not wanting to compromise the situation. On arrival we stopped to watch the drama. All the time we had been looking for the pride they had been hiding in the long grass! The pride had stalked close to the breeding herd of buffaloes accompanied by some of the young cubs. We thought it was meant to introduce and teach or show these young members the skills necessary to deal with big, dangerous prey but by the time we had stumbled upon the action the buffaloes had ganged up together to drive off the lions. They were advancing at a determined pace towards the lions and causing the pride to retreat hastily. A dangerous situation for the cubs.

The lions started running away some of them jumping in trees and around the bushes to get the cubs out of danger. All but one of the cubs managed to get away. The buffalo did catch up with one cub and it was sadly killed beneath the horns and feet of the angry herd. That was a lesson learnt the hard way.

One little cub looking quite content surrounded by the rest of the pride. This pride specialises in hunting buffalo, particularly at this time of the year. Photo by Wilson Kilong.

Robert Kibwana
By Robert Kibwana
Field Guide