You know it’s going to be a good day when an elephant ambles into your campsite to get a drink of water before your jeep is loaded up. The view from the edge of the rim, before we descended into the crater was spectacular, and it was a wonderful start to the day that marked our three-year anniversary. Three whole years together that included six whole months spent traveling through more than ten countries together.
At first, I thought “Oh this is pretty! Yep… lots of animals here… How nice…”
And then, we saw a line of metal and glass reflecting the sunlight in the distance. “Something is going on down there.” Josh said excitedly. I couldn’t believe so many jeeps would be lined up watching something, “Really? “Maybe it’s a parking lot or something… That’s a lot of jeeps!” I responded.
It wasn’t a parking lot. As we got closer, it was a line of a crazy amount of jeeps watching seven lions surround two cape buffalo. It was a big five kill taking place before our very eyes. ‘The Big Five’ refers to the five animals that are hardest to kill on foot. Not, because of their size. They are the lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, African elephant, and Black rhinoceros.
We later learned that this drawn out kill began with seven or eight buffalo when the lions attacked. At first we thought the male mate was sticking by his wounded female, but we later learned that they were both males. The other buffalos had left, leaving one wounded and one trying to help his friend.
“Arnold, I think I should go help the buffalo…” I said, offering to climb out of the jeep and protect the wounded animal from the preying lions. He laughed, and allowed no such thing. Even from far away, looking through the binoculars, we were wide-eyed with excitement and wonder over the drawn out big five battle. We were also surprised there was no big male lion leading the fight. Younger males and lionesses were in charge. Where was the older male?
“There he is!” I cried out as I spotted an older lion with a big mane laying up against one of the jeeps watching the battle.
Arnold told us that the older male lions let the young and the females do their bidding until the animal was dead. Then he was the first to eat from the fresh kill. We were in awe at his laziness. He just slept in the shade while not one, but seven of his pride tackled a huge buffalo for his (and their) dinner. Arnold drove us closer. We learned that some of the jeeps had been watching since sunrise – a little over two hours before we had arrived. I was grateful we hadn’t been there so long. It was hard to watch, and I felt for the buffalo.
The lions would circle in, one would jump on the wounded buffalo and he would try to fight back until his friend came and shooed the lions away. Sometimes the lions would tease the healthy buffalo, until he would lower his horns and the lions would back off. The healthy lion called for his friends, but none of them responded, none of them came to help fend the lions away. Our friends from the hostel who were also on safari were there watching in another jeep. Tiffany said it was as if the one buffalo sat down to take one for the team- in a way, to let the other ones go away, and live. But this didn’t make the healthy buffalo who stayed by the wounded one’s side happy.
The healthy buffalo nudged his wounded friend, trying to get him up, but he wouldn’t budge. He circled around for awhile, and then… he started walking away. I know, I know, “It’s the circle of life…” and I shouldn’t be so emotional over it, but it was heartbreaking. Editing the hundreds (and believe me. There were hundreds) of photos was more difficult than watching the kill unfold in real life.
As soon as the lions were sure the healthy buffalo was far enough away, they moved in. The wounded buffalo had to know what was coming, but he put up a fight. It was heroic. With seven lions either on him or pulling his legs apart, he stayed up for quite awhile before they eventually had him on his back. It was cruel watching them rip the buffalo apart. But then, the buffalo got up again, making one last stand until the lions pulled him back down one last time.
I’m assuming it was one last time. After the two hours or so we had devoted to watching the kill go down, we told Arnold we could go pursue a rhino or two before our permit was up to stay in the crater. We reeled, in disbelief over what we saw. And then there were more lions, just hanging out in the crater. Walking around LIKE A BOSS. Making all of the other animals a little bit twitchy wondering what they were going to do. Instead of any more kills, they walked towards us and took a sip of water from a puddle on the side of the road and continued ambling around the crater.
“They are lazy in the crater.” Arnold told us. With the walls so high, other animals have nowhere to go. If that water buffalo kill happened in the Serengeti, it would have happened much faster because the Serengeti is so huge, and the animals can run away or hide more easily.
We spotted a rhino in the distance, rounding out our Big Five sightings, some zebras playing, took a few group pictures and then headed out of the crater and back to Arusha. We may be over budget, but boy was it totally worth it. And hey, maybe this means we’ll be home sooner than we thought we would! Good news all around!