Lions in these rolling savannahs struggled for reassurance and meaning after the humiliating rout of four of their number by a herd of Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer). The entire episode was filmed by a human tourist, featured on Youtube (“The buffalo’s revenge”) and has now been viewed by a world audience in the millions. The footage shows what initially appeared to be a classic “cut out and kill” maneuver straight from the book collapse into farce as an unsuccessful attempt by a crocodile to snatch the targeted calf allowed time for the buffalo herd to regroup, surround the lions, toss two of them on their horns, rescue the calf and chase their assailants away into the bush.
“This is the darkest day for Panthera leo since Frank Baum wrote the Wizard of Oz”, said the leader of one pride. “We face the total erosion of our credibility as apex predators.”
Anger mingles with apprehension. Word has already spread across the veld and now other traditional sources of nutrition such as gazelles are seeking protection amid herds of emboldened buffalo. Other ungulates such as Connochaetes taurinus (brindled gnu) , commonly easy prey, are already displaying uncharacteristic defiance and fighting back.
Some lions, speaking privately, concede that defeat at the horns and hooves of the tough and hefty Cape buffalo is not unprecedented. “Look,” said one, “Syncerus caffer is always a problem for us. The disaster here stemmed from tactical folly. They wasted precious minutes in that tug of war with the crocodile and that allowed the buffalo time to return and launch a counter-attack.”
Some thoughtful lions see a paradox in the fact that the episode was filmed. “Do you think any of us would be here if it wasn’t for the National Geographic and nature films on PBS?” an elderly male asked rhetorically.