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The Rongai Pride’s Epic Buffalo Hunt at Ishara

After a few weeks away from the Mara, I was eagerly anticipating our first game drive and the opportunity to photograph the magnificent wildlife again. Our guide, Dalton, had spotted the Rongai pride earlier in the day and suggested we head towards them as we embarked on our evening drive. When we found them, they were concealed in the long grass of the Posee Plains, not far from a massive herd of Cape buffalo. They started to become active as temperatures dipped, their eyes lighting up at the sight of the herd having gone several days without a successful hunt. The lionesses switched to high alert and their eyes brimmed with intent as they began to calculate their next moves. There was an uncanny silence as they stepped forth. Through carefully coordinated tail movements and head nods, they began orchestrating their plan with skillful precision, utilising a sacred language only they could understand.

One lioness stalked through the overgrowth, her shoulders becoming more pronounced. Her head dropped low before she vanished into the sea of gold. Two others moved to occupy the wide flanks, while the rest of the pride remained still. We were unsure of their strategy but watched attentively as their plan unfolded. All of a sudden, the lead lioness emerged in front of the herd, provoking them to charge in her direction. With the finesse of a seasoned tactician, she deftly led them into a trap. The whole pride awakened, initiating a tense exchange with the buffaloes. The lions charged at them from multiple directions, fragmenting the herd until they managed to isolate one. Lorkulup seized the chance, swiftly and skillfully accelerating to leap onto the back of one, attempting to wrestle it to the ground. His endeavour was short-lived as the rest of the herd quickly rallied to the defense of their comrade. Another failed hunt for the pride with a growing appetite.

The following morning, we learned that the pride was still searching for a meal. We found them nearby but there was nothing available for them to hunt. We left and decided to catch up with them later. Just as we were setting up our cameras to head out for our evening drive, we received an urgent call from reception. “There are lions taking down a buffalo at the waterhole!” Judy exclaimed. Without hesitation, we jumped into our land cruiser and rushed towards the scene, less than a hundred metres away. As we arrived, a grisly spectacle unfolded before our eyes.

The Rongai pride had found a solitary bull, one of the most imposing I had ever seen. He charged fiercely at them, his eyes burning with fury, while the pride tactically aimed for his hind legs and vulnerable areas. It was a gruesome scene, with the lions persistently attacking the bull as he fought back valiantly. Outnumbered and facing formidable opponents, the bull refused to surrender. The growls, roars and torment echoed through the air, sending shivers down my spine. It was as if the very earth itself was trembling at the furious battle that was raging on.

Despite his desperate kicks and thrusts, the buffalo could not shake off the lions. Lorkulup had been strategically coordinating intermittent attacks, allowing the lionesses to wear the buffalo down. Then, seizing the perfect moment, he pounced with full force. With a powerful leap, he launched himself onto the buffalo’s spine, finally bringing it to the ground. The pride stormed in, holding him down while one of the lionesses suffocated him. The entire ordeal unfolded over forty excruciating minutes. It was a whirlwind of emotions echoing the intricate dance of the wild. Alas, a meal finally for the persistent Rongai pride.

The lions celebrated their feast for the remainder of the evening, occasionally walking over to our waterhole to quench their thirst; Lorkulup, Olonkera, Kidong’oe, Bearface, and others. We sat in disbelief, unsure of what we were witnessing.

As night fell, the shimmering skies above and the guttural growls below crafted a truly inimitable and intimate viewing experience. In moments like these, one cannot help but feel deeply connected to the soul of the wild, sitting in an open vehicle close to these primal beasts with bones being crushed and flesh being torn apart. I felt truly alive, with blood rushing and senses tingling. But there was also a certain vulnerability that lingered; we were mortal beings in the lions’ realm, merely visitors in their domain.

As the temperatures dropped, steam emanated from the carcass, surrounding the lions in a hazy mist. It offered some of the most unique moments I have ever had the pleasure of capturing.

The wide-eyed lions continued with their powerful feeding frenzy under the moonlit landscape as we drove back to camp. With over 800 kilos of meat to consume, we anticipated that the pride would linger for at least another day. At first light, we found them still feasting with the same intensity. They took turns, some sleeping, others continuing to eat, until it was time for a break with the awakening lions returning to their meal. Jackals and hyenas loitered in the distance; none brave enough to venture closer.

Abruptly, there was a pause, and one of the lionesses raised her head, staring intensely into the distance. Through our binoculars we spotted another male lion as apprehension gripped the entire pride. As we drove closer, we identified the newcomer as Lemoniko, one of the Sankai males. He sat quietly across the waterhole, seemingly calculating his next move. Indecision hung in the air as he hesitantly approached the pride. Meanwhile, Lorkulup emerged from his slumber and began walking towards the carcass, unaware of the intruder’s presence. Our hearts raced at the prospect of a potential confrontation between the two.

The lionesses alerted Lorkulup, and as he caught sight of Lemoniko and their eyes met, a deathly silence fell over the scene. The waterhole felt like a gladiatorial arena where anything could happen. Sensing his vulnerability, Lemoniko retreated as Lorkulup followed him swiftly, driving him out of the pride’s territory. The encounter took on a nonviolent yet assertive tone, and the intruder vanished into the red oat grass.

Being at Ishara is a constant reminder of the power and unpredictability of the wild. Around us, we are privileged to witness nature in its truest form, undisturbed and thriving, and as we embrace each day in this magical place, we are immersed in a world where new animal behaviours, dynamics, and personalities emerge before our very eyes. After days like these, we are left with more than memories; we have timeless stories that will be told for years to come.

Photo credits: Eric Averdung, Japheth Supeyo, Imara Njeri, Mohamed Ayieko

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