On the third day of our stay we came across an amazing kill scene. The only death I had ever witnessed, was my father’s. He died from cancer only twenty hours later than the birth of my second son. The birth-death sequence was overwhelming and did not allow me to isolate the feelings that death causes.
It is rather obvious to people that they will eventually die, yet nature protects us from suffering the death horror by pushing it deep into the darkest alleys of the mind. Humans are differnet than any other creature – with the possible exception of big apes, especially chimps – in that we are self aware. Mistakenly, we believe that other animals are equally aware about their own existence and individuality, leading to think that juring a kill predators and prey are overwhelmed by human like emotions. Am I going to die? What will happen to the kids? Should I eat this poor baby alive? Sounds depressing, doesn’t it?
Personally, I have always thought that the worst way to die is to be eaten alive. So it was a life changing experience to watch real hunts and kills during our last Serengeti safari. To my surprise, I did not feel any strong emotion and understood, for the first time in my life, what a natural process death is. One could argue that it might indeed be a very emotional process, but since animals cannot express their emotions, it does show. I am not an expert in animal behavior, but it looks very different to me.
Back to the kill: A single buffalo is grazing next to the river, facing a bunch of Land Cruisers that stopped to watch the pride of lions resting on the opposite river bank. One lioness decides to exploit the opportunity. She crosses the river and attacks the buffalo from behind. The angry bufallo starts chasing her, then changes his mind and starts charging at our vehicle. Simon, our driver, locks in reverse gear and steps on the throttle to avoid the hit. After the short chase the angry buffalo quits and returns his attention to the lioness, only he is now tired and wounded from the initial attack. While she starts circling him, a second lioness crosses the river and comes close. It takes 15 seconds for the first lioness to jump on the buffalo’s back, bring him down and grab his neck. The second lioness grabs his leg and tries to cut his tenond to prevent an escape. Within ten minutes, the big buffalo is dead. A third lioness, which has meanwhile come to help, is calling their 6 cubs for lunch.
And this was not the only kill we witnessed. Two days later, we came across four male lions that pushed out of their pride by their father and have formed a gang of four that reigned the bushland between Ndutu and Serengeti. We observed them closely for 30 min and when we started the car engine to leave, a baby Thomson gazelle that was hiding in the bush, jumped out and started running. In less than five seconds, one of the lions grabbed it by the neck and killed it on the spot. Easy lunch for one, the kill was small and he refused to share. The picture of the lion grabbing the kill by the neck looks shocking but again, it did not feel at all like that when it happened.
I was less than 10 meters away from both kills and I felt absolutely nothing, death is such a natural thing here, part of the life-and-death cycle that keeps preserves the ecosystem. I did not feel any symparhy for the buffalo or the baby gazelle. Brutal death comes together with the privilege of living in the wild.
Next: Kibale Forest, Uganda.