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07 May, 2021
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Who Is The Boss? – Article by Gareth Jones

Who Is The Boss In The Nairobi National Park?

Very early on a cloudy gloomy morning we arrived at the large dam next to no 2 Junction with an Italian visitor and found a majestic male lion relaxing next to the road. However, after a few minutes, the lion (known as Sirikoi to regular visitors) suddenly got up and crossed the road, then stared towards the dark horizon for some time. After a short while, he strode off across the plain with a definite intentional pace in his walk. As the dawn light slowly increased we could see a large herd of buffalo forming a protective ring stance in the middle of the plain at least 500m away. Then suddenly just next to the buffalo herd I noticed the unmistakable profiles of at least 5 spotted hyenas. They appeared to be circling the buffalo herd for some unknown reason.

Just as the lion appeared closer to the hyena he was joined by two lionesses that must have been lying low in the grass. It was obvious that these predators were not there to merely watch the buffalo grazing. As I pondered on the possible reasons, I thought it could be a newborn calf or an injured or sick buffalo? Whatever it was, it was definitely attracting a lot of predator attention. At times both the hyenas and lions ventured very close to the buffalo herd. This action resulted in an aggressive buffalo reaction, with large bulls chasing hyenas and lions. On at least five occasions the lion (Sirikoi) was chased by a particularly large angry buffalo bull. It is when watching scenes like this that thoughts like, who is the boss? come to my mind. No doubt large buffalo bulls are much heavier and stronger than a full-grown male lion, however, lions hunt in prides, so the power struggle ratio tips in favour of the lions when they are a large pride hunting together.

The stalk and chase drama continued for at least 45 minutes as the hungry predators tried time and time again to break the protective circle. Then suddenly it was all over, Sirikoi managed to grab a newborn buffalo calf and kill it. No wonder the buffalo were being so protective. Watching the final killing moment was also sad, in that even though lions need to eat, the tiny buffalo calf did not even get an opportunity to experience a meaningful life.

African buffalo are a force to be reckoned with especially when facing big cats. Buffalo can be very dangerous when provoked. In the Nairobi Park, buffalo are at times hunted by lions, however, due to the fact that there are not many large prides in the park, buffalo lion kills are not often seen. The battle for survival between the “cows & cats” has been going on for thousands of years. Sometimes the cats win a kill, but on many occasions, the cows win, especially when their large bulls support them and the herd forms a defensive cluster.

I remember an incident a few years ago involving 2 lions known as Mohawk & Sam. Late one afternoon, I found them next to the road near No6 Junction. I sat watching them for a while as the light began to fade for another Ngong hills sunset. Then I looked ahead and saw a rapidly advancing large herd of buffalo. The buffalo seemed to just be on the move, however, the lions were directly in their path. Both lions waited a while longer, possibly hoping the buffalo would turn and move away. Instead, the leading buffalo bulls suddenly stopped and smelled the air. After a few seconds, they resumed their advance, as they accelerated into a full charge towards the lions. Mohawk and Sam were forced to make a humble and hurried retreat.

So try something different, visit the Nairobi National Park, and find a buffalo herd, then approach carefully, and enjoy God’s creation close-up. You just never know, you might just witness another, who’s the boss? action moment.

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Gareth Jones – Nairobi Park Diary – A passionate writer & photographer

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