Around the World With the ArvaMonts
These Lions Can Hunt
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Wow! What an amazing day! Not just in terms of what we saw, but also in terms of how the conditions evolved to facilitate capturing the scene. It's funny how things can sometimes work out. Just half an hour earlier, the sun was out and the heat waves were visibly rising off the ground. 1-2 hours ago, we tried to watch (and photograph) some distant lions facing off with some warthogs (nothing really happened) and a cheetah briefly chasing some gazelle (also a non-event). Unfortunately, the sun's heat and the distance of the subjects made it impossible to get clear, clean shots. Our first rhino spotting for the trip was a little closer, but it too was softened by the heat waves. Yet another reason not so be out shooting in the midday sun! But sometimes persistence in the face of "the normal rules" pays off.
The time was around noon, but we weren't really hungry yet, and our guide, Mohammed, suggested eating later to avoid the picnic crowds, so after a short bathroom break at the picnic area, we headed off down the road to see what we might find. I wasn't overly optimistic since it was midday (harsh lighting, thermal waves and lazy animals in the midday heat), but one never knows. We came across a couple of lionesses laying in the grass about 100 feet from the road - at least, unlike the other lions we'd seen, these weren't sleeping. Actually, they looked rather alert, so we decided to park and hang out for a while. As we settled in, some clouds drifted in overhead and blocked the hot sunshine. The light was still decent from an exposure standpoint, but hopefully it would start to reduce the effect of the heat waves in case there's any interesting animal activity.
"What are the lionesses doing?" we wondered. Then we saw a buffalo wandering towards them from the left - apparently, it was walking to join the rest of its herd off to the distant right. The lionesses were hanging out on the path between a number of buffalo and the rest of the herd. Hmmm...we better get ready, one lioness is crouching down low to the ground and it looks like something might happen. Memory cards with lots of room? Check. Cameras set to multi frame shooting? Check. Let's see what pans out (no pun intended :-) ).
(Clicking on an image below will bring up a larger version of it.)
I can only imagine the surprise for the buffalo when it walked up and saw a crouching lioness staring at it.
After a brief moment of surprise, it goes on the offensive chasing the lioness. This lasts just a few seconds, however; then the lioness becomes the chaser.
The buffalo takes off in the direction of its herd. Two other lionesses from the pride join the chase. They run through a little gully before the lionesses finally catch up with the buffalo. A lioness pounces on the buffalo trying to slow it down or bring it down. The buffalo kicks its hind legs and spins around trying to hit or throw the lioness.
Interestingly, the other lionesses can't jump on at the same time, so they circle the buffalo and are prepared to jump in when necessary. The buffalo manages to throw the lioness off and continues to run for its herd just as a male lion joins in the chase (I never realized that the males helped with the hunting - as we were to find out later, they can play a very important role).
But it is too late. Less than 2 minutes after first running up against the lioness, the buffalo makes a narrow escape and the 4 lions give up the chase. Whew! That was exciting, and while we're happy we saw the chase, we're also kind of glad that we didn't see a "kill" - this is a family outing, after all.
After all that running, you'd think the lions would be a little tired, but they must have been very hungry since the lionesses just came back and crouched down once again. As if on cue, another buffalo was approaching from the left.
This buffalo immediately started to run and the lionesses gave chase.
Through the little gully, heading for the herd. This time, however, the male lion joins the chase early on.
The male lion catches up and pounces; the buffalo kicks and spins and manages to get rid of the male, but only briefly. The lions chase the buffalo back towards where we are (is that lucky, or what?!) and the male pounces again.
(hey look, 3 of the "big five" in one photo - thanks to Tasha for pointing that out)
The buffalo shakes off the male again, but exhausted from the chase and the fighting, the buffalo, for some unknown reason, heads off for the tall grass rather than towards the herd. The lions chase it and the buffalo falls into a little gully in front of the tall grasses and does not get up - the lions are on it in a heartbeat.
2-1/2 minutes after it started, this buffalo has become a "kill." Ok, I guess if our family has to see a "kill" it's just as well that it happened in a little gully by the tall grass out of sight. We could still hear the buffalo's cries, however, and I couldn't help feeling just a little sorry for it.
You'd think with such a big kill, the lions would be happy for a while. But I guess they don't know when their next meal is going to be and thus they are somewhat opportunistic. Enter a family of buffalo from the left - 3 big ones and a baby.
The lioness doesn't hesitate - instinctively she knows that a little one is a much easier catch. We're not sure we really want to see this, but we are mesmerized. The buffalos waste no time either - they immediately turn and run back in the direction from which they came.
The lioness catches up amazingly quickly. About 20 seconds after starting the chase a good 75-100 feet behind, she is on the heels of the family.
We think it's basically over, but then one of the large buffalo cuts directly across the lionesses' path of attack and manages to slow her down. Briefly.
The lioness continues the chase and manages to get to the baby. She pounces.
Amazingly, even before the baby has fallen to the ground, one of the large buffalo has started to turn around. (They're too far away for us to hear, but we assume that the baby made a cry of some sort.) This big buffalo turns and charges the lioness before she has had a chance to do any serious damage to the baby (heck, they've just barely fallen before the big one is on them).
The lioness jumps back away from the baby and the family continues running and makes their escape. While we feel bad that the lions missed out on a snack, we're happy that we didn't have to watch the baby die.
What an exciting 30 minutes. Maybe we should head off to lunch? Nah, there are still buffalo to the left of this area, so let's wait and see what plays out.
7 minutes later our decision pays off (and from a photographic standpoint, the ground continued to cool, so the images should be getting sharper).
Enter an agitated, and somewhat stupid from what we can tell, buffalo. This guy is perturbed about something. He's just running around looking all angry and aggravated.
Maybe he can sense what has occurred; maybe he's related to the buffalo that were attacked. Whatever the cause, he comes in and immediately chases a lioness. She astutely just lets him chase her...in the direction of the pride. Next up is the male lion, and the buffalo chases him as well. Seconds later, this buffalo is right in the midst of the pride.
The buffalo now seems to realize that maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all and off he goes. One lioness pounces and struggles to bring the buffalo down. At one point, the buffalo's rear legs are down, but it gets back up. It kicks and thrashes, but the lioness hangs on. At times, the buffalo is spinning so hard that her rear paws are lifted off the ground - a wildlife version of "crack the whip." It's impressive that she can hang on - it says something about the strength of those claws!
The other lions circle and wait (2 males and 3 lionesses in addition to the one riding the buffalo). It seems like rather a sure thing at this point since the buffalo is just terribly outnumbered. But the lioness just isn't big enough to bring this buffalo down.
So, one of the males steps in to help out.
For the next 60 seconds, the male and the buffalo struggle - the buffalo kicking and spinning with the male lion hanging on and riding its back.
Finally, the male lion brings down the buffalo and the rest of the pride jumps in to finish the "kill."
(thanks to Anika for letting me use the above image)
A lioness grabs the buffalo by the nose and twists its head around (Mohammed explains that they do this to break the buffalo's neck since while the buffalo is alive it can still seriously injure the lions). Soon the buffalo stops making sounds and is no longer moving.
The lions lay down next to the buffalo and rest. This has been an exhausting, but productive 40 minutes. One of the lionesses heads off and comes back a few minutes later with her three tiny little cubs (they had been stashed away somewhere for safety). Some of the older cubs check out dinner, but nobody is really eating yet - that will come later.
All in all, we count 7 cubs of various ages. They're so cute! We'll just keep our distance, however - we've seen what these cats can do!
Round 5 ?
Another buffalo looks like it's heading in this direction, but before it gets very close, it seems to sense all that's happened and it just turns and high tails it out of there. Just as well, we're exhausted too - we've been hand holding our camera equipment for about an hour. Tripods on these safari vehicles just don't work so well - in addition to being bulky, they seem to magnify every vibration of the car whenever someone moves, coughs, the wind blows, etc. Tasha and Anika were shooting with the 100-400mm (about 7 lbs total with camera); I was using the 300mm with a 2x (about 11 lbs total with the camera). Our left arms feel like lead; our shutter release fingers are cramped. We probably couldn't shoot another round, so it's just as well that the action is over.
Not in my wildest :-) dreams
When we set off to see the animals in Africa, I had some faint hopes that we might see some predator activity, but I never, ever expected to see what we did today - let alone in less than 1 hour. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. And to have the weather cooperate such that we could get a few clear shots was just fantastic. Being a perfectionist, I did joke with Mohammed that next time I'd like to be 50 feet closer and have some nice morning or late afternoon light illuminating it (and of course I'd have the longest lens that I can muster). He said he'd see what he can do. :-) Seriously, given our good fortune today, I am quite content to wait for that next opportunity (though eager to seek it out) - what we observed was absolutely amazing and will be with us for a long time to come. Wow! What an amazing day!
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