November 18 – Morning Game Drive
High Drama & Vehicular Chaos, aka “The Moment We had all been Sweating for” – When we found the buffalo herd that morning, the lions were only 100-200 yards away. Imagine these lions quietly circling the flanks of 1000+ edgy buffalo. Six of the Tsaro Pride (including the 20 year-old Grandmother – a note about that later) and five younger lions, including the 2010 female cub (now a sub-adult), were in the early stages of mounting an attack. The energy was high on all fronts – including that of the photographers. The posturing is amazing to witness and experience. The lions are aggressive and bold, but so are the buffalo. Given the buffalo’s size, they are not easy to take down and the big bulls work together to protect themselves and the herd. The action started in the midst of some dense shrubbery and we initially thought that the lions were going to get lucky, but in fact, one of them came out of the shrubs with a gash in its side.
The drama was increased by some unfortunate “vehicular chaos” – imagine if you started and stopped your car every few minutes, every day that you drove it. What kind of problem would you ultimately expect to encounter – perhaps one with your starter??? Well that is the name of the game on safaris – guides are constantly starting and stopping the vehicle – as they move closer to and further away from the animals. We unfortunately experienced some severe starter problems just as the Chess Match was getting underway, so in the midst of the lions chasing the buffalo and then getting chased themselves, we found ourselves jumping from one vehicle to another in the midst of this action to make sure that we didn’t miss the real action! Martin came to the rescue with a fresh vehicle so all was well. James 007 wanted to make sure we were getting the right action shots so he was yelling “SHOOT THE BULL! SHOOT THE BULL!!”. This was my first attempt at “action” video and I have so say I am neither Ron Howard nor James Cameron – at least not yet… Unfortunately you can’t ask for a “Take II” on the Duba set… I am glad that Evan kept his “eye on the bull” and got some amazing photos of the experience. The lions worked together and for what seemed like a split second, one of them did jump on the back of a bull, but the buffs quickly closed ranks, heading off the ability for the lions to really join forces and pull the bull down – Advantage Buffs.
Bottom-line, despite their efforts, the lions came up short – no kill and some injury, though nothing life-threatening, this time anyway. This is a normal occurrence for the Duba lions. While you will find them occasionally feasting on warthog or tsessebe or lechwe, the buffalo are their primary food source, a particularly dangerous source, each and every time. Interestingly, our guide at the Savute Safari Lodge in Chobe National Park told us that the Chobe lions steer clear of the Cape Buffalo and would never consider pulling out the Duba playbook and executing on that strategy.
Going back to the 20-year old matriarch for a minute – James 007 said it really is quite phenomenal to have a 20-year old lion in our midst. He also said that the Duba lions live a somewhat “protected” life, given the general isolation of the Duba Plains camp in the Okavango Delta, that is, if they survive their day-to-day combat with the buffalo…
While so many guests want to witness a “big kill” (and we were fortunate to see that occur here in 2010) – I was fascinated watching the “Chess Match” strategy play out today and did not really feel the “need” for a climactic finale, of course, the lions would have preferred a totally different outcome.
Evan Becomes “One with the Dung” – When the action subsided and the protagonists headed for the shade, we headed down to the Hippo pool to cool our own heels (metaphorically speaking that is, under no circumstances would we consider putting our feet in or close to the water – for fear of becoming a crocodile treat).
The hippos weren’t that active, so after a bit of a coffee break, James decided to turn up the adventure-meter with an up-close and personal photo session with the elephants. We parked near a big dirt mound as the elephants were coming our way. Then we got OUT of the vehicle and waited for the elephants to pass, taking pictures the whole time. Being on the ground was AMAZING – I will share my short video here. It really gives you a sense how close we were and the elephants’ size. Did I tell you how much I love the elephants?? Notice how the adults are always protecting the young ones…
Evan really wanted a LOW ground shot and because everything was happening quickly he threw himself down to prepare for the entourage – only after they had passed did we all realize that he had thrown himself into a mound of elephant dung (not too bad, at least on a relative basis – elephant dung is pretty darn dry – just happy for our sake that it wasn’t buffalo dung he threw himself in – let’s just leave it that buffalo dung is a lot more “moist”).
The action continued after the departure of the elephants as we then found a lioness and her two sub-adult offspring, devouring a red lechwe in a big muddy area. James ventured to guess that the lechwe had been killed by a crocodile the day before, but the croc had been unable to move the lechwe back towards the open water. The lions have no problem scavenging if they feel like it and the mother and two cubs (male and female) wasted no time in devouring the lechwe. It was most interesting to learn that this mother was in fact, Ma di Tau (the “Mother of Lions” and the star in Dereck and Beverly Joubert’s movie, The Last Lions).