Caught on camera: three lion prides kill buffalo

Posted by Chloe Cooper on 19 October 2014

Something very exciting happened for guests at Africa on Foot and nThambo Tree Camp a couple of weeks ago when their Big 5 game drive turned into a rarely witnessed act of nature. Not one pride, but three different groups of lions participated in killing two buffalo only a few kilometres from each other in the Klaserie Private Nature Reserve.

Rangers Matt Roberts and Francois Pienaar (guiding at nThambo Tree Camp and Africa on Foot respectively) managed to get their guests in view of this once in a lifetime event and, although it might have been difficult to watch, the activity was astonishing. Ranger Matt Roberts caught the take down of one buffalo on film, contributing to this unique wildlife video by Sun Destinations’ videographer, Kevin MacLaughlin.

The Ross Pride lionesses and their cubs fought to collapse a buffalo cow; the cubs tirelessly clinging onto the back of the panicked buffalo while the experienced mothers worked at an injury the cow had on her hind leg. After an intense couple of minutes and what looked like a successful kill, the exhausted Ross Pride had to fight to keep their prize, as four unknown sub-adult male lions came charging into the kill site and claimed the buffalo for themselves.

 

rosspride-klaserie-pauldickinson

The Ross Pride trying to take down the buffalo. Image by nThambo guest, Paul Dickinson.

 

Ross Pride, Klaserie

The Ross Pride fiercely try and defend their kill to the new male arrivals. Image by nThambo guest, Paul Dickinson.

 
As confidently as the young males took over the kill, they did not relax for more than a few seconds at a time, constantly looking alert and searching the surrounding veld in between greedy mouthfuls. Did they know something everyone else didn’t?

Sure enough, in no time at all, the notorious coalition of three males known as ‘The Trilogy’ emerged from the bush and, with their superior power, took the buffalo for themselves. The young males fled and The Trilogy protected the carcass without even eating a bite. The rangers could see that the three males had already been eating as their faces and manes were stained with the evidence. Had they killed another animal?

 

Trilogy male. Image by Francois Pienaar.

Trilogy male. Image by Francois Pienaar.

 

Two of the Trilogy males photographed by Francois Pienaar.

Two of the Trilogy males photographed by Francois Pienaar.

 

Coming out on top. Trilogy male. Image by Francois Pienaar.

Coming out on top. Trilogy male. Image by Francois Pienaar.

 
The area was investigated and sure enough, a second buffalo carcass was found, estimated to have been killed at roughly the same time and in the same area as the kill that had just been witnessed.

 

Trilogy male dragging his kill. Image by Francois Pienaar.

Trilogy male dragging his kill. Image by Francois Pienaar.

 

Feasting on their own buffalo kill. Trilogy male. Photo by Kevin MacLaughlin.

Feasting on their own buffalo kill. Trilogy male. Photo by Kevin MacLaughlin.

 

Trilogy male. Image by Kevin MacLaughlin.

Trilogy male. Image by Kevin MacLaughlin.

 
trilogy-eating-kevinmaclaughlin

 
See the incredible footage here, including interviews with the rangers, and the dramatic entrance of all three groups of lions:

 

 
The Ross Pride take down an African Buffalo from Sun Destinations on Vimeo.

 
I interviewed Kevin MacLaughlin to gain some insight into this lion behaviour and for some details about this spectacular event.

Is it not unusual for three different groups of lions, which are territorial, to be in such close proximity to each other?

It doesn’t happen often that you would get three groups of lions in the same area, but it will happen from time to time. Once young males get kicked out of a pride, they have to move somewhere where they can hide and feel safe. With so many lion prides in the area, they are more than likely going to come into several pride territories during their nomadic stages. These lions most likely stumbled on the Ross Pride as they were killing a buffalo. As for The Trilogy goes, as far as I know, the Ross Pride territory and the Giraffe Pride territory (Timbavati) belongs to them. The Ross Pride only come to the outskirts of what once was their territory because they have cubs and want to keep them away from The Trilogy.

Which lions do you speculate the four unknown males are?

We suspect the four young males to be from the Machatan Pride, which operates in the Timbavati around Kings camp and Shindzela.

How old are the cubs in the Ross Pride that were helping to take down the buffalo?

Those cubs are around a year old or just short of a year. It’s clear in the video that they were doing everything to help bring the buffalo down, but with very little effect. It will be at least another year before they can bring down an animal by themselves, but that being said, animals always seem to surprise us. It is however, extremely important for them to participate in as many hunts as possible because it gives them the necessary skills to bring down their own prey one day. It’s all a learning curve for them at this stage and what better way to learn from all the pride members?

Why would the Trilogy males have chased off the four unknowns if they didn’t need to eat?

Male lions never get along unless they are in a coalition or they are in the same pride (as in cubs). The Trilogy, in my opinion, saw these 4 nomadic males as a threat to try and take over their territory. Being a coalition of three big males against a young coalition of four sub-adult males, the unknowns never stood a chance and they just ran off.

How regularly do lions make kills and how often do guests get to witness the event?

It’s hard to say exactly when their next kill will take place, and it’s not always the lions that make the kills they feast on. Most of the hunting will be done during the cooler hours of the night when lions have the advantage of being well adapted to low light conditions. That’s not to say that they won’t take an opportunity if it does come their way during the middle of the day. On average in our area of the Klaserie, the Ross Pride needs at least one buffalo a week to sustain them. If they kill something small like an impala, they would have to kill maybe 4-6 times a week, and then they would also scavenge in between, so it’s really tricky to say exactly how often they make kills.

In the two years that I’ve been with Africa on Foot I have witnessed a kill happening only four times. Two of those four kills I’ve seen happened in a space of a few days. It’s extremely rare to see, but you never know when it will happen.

 

Trilogy male. Image by Kevin MacLaughlin.

Trilogy male. Image by Kevin MacLaughlin.

 

Trilogy male. Image by Kevin MacLaughlin.

Trilogy male. Image by Kevin MacLaughlin.


 

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