Recently I posted a few photos on our Face Book page that got a lot of attention. It was a rather unique image with 3 of the Big 5 in one frame. I am not however talking of the 3 herbivores, but an elephant, a buffalo and a lion! What made this sighting even more unique were the circumstances behind the interaction. At one point the lion was stalking nearly alongside the buffalo which even looked around, but never ran. It was as if the elephant was telling the lion not to even dare!!
It was a warm day in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve and we were heading to exit the park. We were lucky enough to find 2 large bull elephants, which then proceeded to block our path as they often enjoy doing. As we followed them for some 2 km’s down the road in the blazing heat, I was at a loss as to how I was going to get past these enormous animals. I tried creeping up behind him to shoo him off the road but he paid me very little attention.
So we waited, at the mercy of the giants, edging forward when they did and stopping when they decided. I had noticed a couple of cars parked ahead that had been there for some time. I suspected this meant there may be something interesting coming up as cars don’t tend to just sit in the sun on a hot day, which made being stuck behind the Ellies even more frustrating. Suddenly out of the bushes on the left, about 50m ahead a female buffalo emerged onto the verge of the road and began grazing. How lucky we thought!
However what happened next was beyond anything we could have imagined. From the exact spot that the cars were parked a male lion stalked out the long grass and across the road, his eyes fixed on the buffalo. As he approached from behind his target, his focus turned to the elephant ahead of the buffalo. Clearly when he had set out on his stalk to catch his quarry he had not realised that the large pachyderms were dominating this stretch of road. He carried on his stalk, but his eyes were fixed on the bigger elephant that was standing dead centre. In fact from the photo you can see he was actually continuing walking forward. This did not sit well with big Leo and you can see the uncertainty set in. This is where things got really weird!
As we watched with anticipation, the lion a mere metre away from his victim, we awaited the inevitable pounce. It never arrived, instead the lion, so focussed on the monster in the road pulled up alongside the Buff. Making it seem as if the 2 of them were out for a leisurely stroll. Then in the next frame the buffalo looks around, then back ahead, as the lion has its gaze firmly fixed on the elephant, barely acknowledging her. She continues to graze as if nothing is amiss! Almost as if to say; ‘touch me and my buddy over there will give you a beat down to remember’. After a couple more steps, it became too much to resist and the lion attacks, but the photo shows his lack of determination. He bounds after her and then she makes a move that probably saves her life. Instead of heading off into the thick bushes, she makes a left turn right across in front of the elephants. This move completely throws the lion who once again must have been thinking, if I jump on her back, I am just going to get trounced.
He continues to pursue her but doesn’t take his eyes off the elephant, allowing his prized meal to escape. The last photo shows this clearly, a fleeing 700kg Buff and an outstretched lion cursing his bad luck!!