Nighttime African Safari Adventure: Lion Kill Goes to the Hyenas
By Kay L Trotman
On one of my latest African Safaris it had just gotten dark when we started a night safari. We were in Botswana, Africa. Although we were told not to worry, I could not help but wonder what if we were attacked by one of the wild animals, what if the vehicle turned over, what if we got stranded in the middle of the plains.
I tried to brush all those unlikely situations, and many more, out of my mind as we loaded into the open vehicle. The uncovered vehicle was our method of this night’s excursion into the darkness.
It was a brisk summer evening in December. We were out on the Plains of the Kalahari Desert scouting the area to see what we might not easily see in the light of daylight. Our guides were familiar with the terrain and provided us with some unlikely opportunities to see many of the nocturnal animals roaming the area. I felt comfort in knowing our guides knew the area and had driven there many times on lots of safaris.
As our guide drove through the Plains, the spotter pointed his bright spotlight in front of the vehicle to see what lay ahead of us. One quick glimpse caught everyone’s eye as we realized before us was a huge maned lion. We will call him Mane. For obvious reasons, Mane was chasing a small Cape Buffalo. As you can guess that was to be his next meal. The small buffalo appeared to be alone, perhaps having wondered away from the larger herd.
Possibly because of the darkness of the night, the larger herd could do nothing to try to prevent the attack on their young. As the two darted in a circular movement, the lion finally took his front paw and tripped the small buffalo who quickly fell to the ground. While trying to get up, Mane quickly went to grab the downed animal’s throat where he latched on tightly, until the lifeless body of the little buffalo calf lay still on the ground. Sounds of the herd of buffalo could be heard in the distance, as if to cry over death of the small calf.
When Mane was sure there was no life left, he let go of the small buffalo and slowly got up and moved aside. He went and lay in the bushes trying to regain his breath. He panted and panted trying desperately to catch his breath. There were hyenas in the area so he cowered in the opposite direction from the hyenas.
Mane knew if he did not begin eating or dragging the carcass away, he would be vulnerable to having it taken away by hyena. If not by them, then by wild dogs which were known to be in the area. But Mane just could not seem to catch his breath. After all, hunting was a job for the Lioness’. It was rare to see a huge male lion on this kind of a hunt. But, as is often the case, if a vulnerable animal presents itself as prey to these predators, they will take advantage of the situation, just as was done in this case.
Our spotter kept the light on both Mane and the buffalo, alternating it between the two animals. We now could see part of the herd behind some large bushes, but dared not approach them with the lion as close as he was. As Mane began to slowly catch his breath, a sound, familiar to our safari group by now, was heard. It was a hyena.
Though we could not immediately see it, we had come to know the sound. It grew louder and we were afraid if Mane did not get up, he might lose his precious prey. After all, it would be a shame if Mane, who exerted all of his energy to catch his prey, would have it taken over by a pack of hyenas.
It was too late. Suddenly, two hyenas approached the “kill” and danced around the carcass as if to taunt Mane, but Mane was too weak to defend his kill. Then out of the darkness another hyena appeared. Between the three of them, they began to drag the carcass into the bushes. One patrolled the area. The other two hyenas were keeping a sharp lookout for more lions and also watching Mane.
However, one lion is no match against four hyenas. Hyenas can crush bone with their razor like teeth. Mane had no choice but to retreat and watch his hard earned dinner disappear. Talk about survival of the fittest, this was the test. Usually the lion is the fittest, but this was the exception and we had witnessed it firsthand. All of us on safari felt really sorry for Mane as he cowered off into the wilderness. This is not the usual way one would think a lion hunt would end.
Within minutes, we could hear bones crushing, teeth gnawing and the laughing of the pack of hyenas. Nearby were a flock of vultures eerily waiting to savor the leftovers that the hyenas were sure to leave. In this sad case Mane actually contributed to meals for a pack of hyena and also to a wake (plural for a group of vultures) of vultures. Poor Mane went without food for this particular kill.
I guess we should have felt sorry for the little buffalo that lost his life, but the situation seemed to be in favor of the lion after expending so much energy going after his meal then losing it to a bunch of hyenas that did nothing to gain a free meal. Such are the normal activities one might find on African safaris.
Many more adventures will be experienced. If you’ve never experienced the thrill of an African safari and ever get a chance to go on one don’t pass up that chance. One safari can be that “can’t miss” opportunity of a lifetime.