The Battle at Kruger

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Africa is one of the last great wilderness on Earth. It is still home to vast herds of megafauna and the carnivores that prey on them. Tourists from all over the world travel here for the chance to glimpse nature’s majesty. Few places in all of Africa are as iconic as Kruger National Park, South Africa. It is one of the largest and oldest game reserves in Africa, covering over 7,500 square miles. Over ten years ago one safari group captured on film a truly spectacular contest between some of Africa’s most powerful and impressive creatures that the press would later dub the Battle at Kruger.

King of the Beasts

The lion is the largest territorial predator on the African continent and is second only to the tiger in size. Males can stretch six feet from nose to rump, stand three feet at the shoulder, and weigh more than 400 pounds. Lions are the only cat species to grow a mane, and while it is clearly a sexually selected trait its exact function is current the subject of scientific debate. Unlike other big cats, lions live in social groups of up to 30 individuals known as prides. A pride is made up of a group of related females and their offspring lorded over by one or two dominant males. Females do the majority of the hunting, working cooperatively to increase their chances of success, but the males do participate in the bringing down of particularly large prey. Lions are ambush predators, stalking as close as possible to potential prey before pouncing. Death is delivered via a suffocating bite to the throat. They prefer to eat large hoofed animals such as zebra and wildebeest, but have been known to consume everything from hares to elephants to humans.

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The Black Death

Among Africa’s big game, none has a more fearsome reputation than the cape buffalo. These huge bovids can weigh up to a ton and sport yard-wide horns that, uniquely among cattle species, are joined together at the center of the animal’s forehead in a structure called a boss. They can be found in a wide variety of different habitats and subsist on lower-quality grass than competing grazers. Cape buffalo are only distantly related to water buffalo, bison, and domesticated cattle. They travel in large herd made up mostly of females and the calves. The males establish a hierarchy with typically the largest bull being the most most dominant. Their aggression is the stuff of both legends and nightmares. Hunters report that wounded buffalo will readily attack their pursuers, even double-backing and ambushing people. Roughly 200 people a year meet their demise on the ends of buffalo horns, earning them nicknames like “The Black Death” and “Widowmaker.”

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Never Smile at a Crocodile

Nile crocodiles are found throughout the lakes and rivers of Africa. They can grow to almost 20 feet long and have the strongest jaws of any living animal, capable of slamming shut with several tons worth of force. This immense jaw strength permits crocodiles to prey on pretty much whatever they please. Crocodiles are consummate ambush predators. All of their sensory organs are located on top of the animal’s head, so it can survey its territory while minimizing the amount of its body expose to potential prey. They can camouflage seamlessly into murky water and often wait right at the water’s edge to grab unsuspecting animals as they come to drink. Crocodile teeth are designed to puncture to and hold but not cut or chew, so they use their bodies to tear prey into bite-size chunks. They seize a hold of a piece of the carcass, often a limb, and violently spin to wrench it off in a process known as death-rolling.

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Clash of the Titans

In September of 2004, one group of tourists went on safari in Kruger and was witness to a scene so astounding it almost seems to be scripted. It starts out as a typical lion hunt. The pride ambushes a herd of buffalo on the edge of a waterhole and one of the lioness manages to catch a calf. The pair tumble into the water and as the lions proceed to drag their prize out, a crocodile appears as if from nowhere and clamps its jaws on the calf’s haunches. A harrowing tug-of-war ensues for several moments but eventually the lions prevail. As the cats settle down to enjoy their hard-won feast, the herd returns. The pride now finds itself surround by a wall of snorting horns and hooves. Several lions are forcibly driven off, one even bodily tossed into the air. As the remainder of the pride members tries in vain to hold their ground, the calf amazingly gets to its feet and shakily rejoins the herd. Once the calf is reunited with its fellow buffalo, one of the big bulls sends the rest of the lions packing. While it may seem staged or even supernatural, this behavior is nothing out of the ordinary for cape buffalo. Like many herd animals, their primary instinct is to flee from danger but they run close together to prevent predators isolating herd members with calves secured in the center. If one buffalo lets out a distress call, the entire herd will respond and work together to mob the predators. Cape buffalo have been documented chasing lions up trees after they have killed another herd member and are even known to trample lion cubs unprovoked. This pride was lucky to escape with their lives.

 

For info on Nile crocodiles, check out our Crocodilian Center!

For info on lions, check out our Feline Center!

For info on cap buffalo, check out our Bovine Center!