On Monday, January 20, we awoke early (5am), packed up our belongings and hit the road geared up for the long drive to our next Camp. Orpen, where we stayed the first two nights, lies on the western edge of Kruger National Park, just an hour's drive from Hoedspruit Airport. Our destination, Olifants, was some 226km to the northeast.
This Monday morning was like any other Monday I've experienced. First, I woke up happy without grumbling and ready to meet the day at 5am. I didn't try to hide under the covers or pretend I didn't hear Josh telling me it was time to rise and shine. Instead, I got up, dressed and collected my belongings. Sterilized a bunch of water using our handy steripen, drank some instant coffee and shoveled cold leftover rice into my smiling face, while Josh downed his yogurts and loaded up the car for the day's adventure. Little did I know what an adventure it would be.
Driving along the tarred road from Orpen towards Satara, we saw a couple cars up ahead stopped and what looked like a herd of African buffalo crossing the road enmass. As we got closer we noticed a graying lion walking along the right side of the road. The lion crossed in front of the silver Land Rover a few hundred yards ahead of us and then gracefully sat on its hunches on the left side of the road, tail in the street, eyeing the buffalo.
Lion eyeing the herd of buffalo, unbeknown to the driver of the white sedan.
Out of the corner of our eyes, we saw a second male lion stealthily prowling up on the right side of the road, passing less than ten feet from our car and moving into position masked by some bushes. This lion was younger than the first and seemed determined to make a move on the Buffalo herd.
For a few minutes, all was quiet, except the Buffalos' eyes which seemed to be darting back and forth from one side of the road to the other. Then the buffalo started boiling in their formation across the road, trying to move the smaller animals to the open field on the right, without letting the herd thin out. There seemed to be hundreds of buffalo spread across the road, out in the savana to the right and walking up from the river to the left.
In a moment of anticipation, the lions got to their feet and began walking purposefully toward the herd. The Buffalos got wild eyed and started bashing into each other and the lions took off running at them.
Did I mention there was a white sedan parked in between the herd and lions at on off-kilter angle watching the scene go down?
Well, in a matter of moments that car became the focal point of the lion-buffalo interaction as the older male lion, gray in its coat and hunger in its eyes, zeroed in one buffalo and, just barely skirting the white car, reached out with its huge paw and clawed at the buffalo tumbling with it around the back side of the car. With the lion at its heels, the buffalo skidded on the smooth surface of the road, fell over and got up as quickly as possible. But one was not quick enough.
The lion and the buffalo got all tangled up, rolling around and over each other mere feet from the white car while it's driver looked on in stunned silence and fear, luckily snapping one telling photo as the duo stirred up dust and the lion tried to bring down the buffalo.
A life or death struggle. (Courtesy of Sarel Smit, aka guy in the white car.)
What looked like sure success turned out not to be. And as quicky as it all started, the lion exited stage left, leaping down the embankment towards the river.
It was all over. All the people in cars, let out of a collective breathe of air, amazed at what we had witnessed and dumbfounded to have stumbled upon this scene at seven in the morning. Aren't lions night hunters? I guess things aren't so simple.
After all the other cars had dispersed, we made a u-turn and crept along the right bank side of the road hoping to catch a glimpse of the lions in retreat. Instead, Josh spotted the two lions on the other side of the river gnawing away at their kill. They had succeeded!
Although we they were bedded down several hundred yards away, we could see their heads bobbing up and down in the grass as the two males, young and old, sat side by side tearing apart the now-dead buffalo. With wide smiles plastered across our faces, we exclaimed to each other what an amazing sight that was.
Lions devouring their kill.
I have never been so rewarded for waking up early.
Oh, and no matter what the lions say, it was definitely premeditated murder.