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Field Notes
Cape Buffalo
Photograph by Beverly Joubert
Dereck and Beverly Joubert

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

One morning we came across some lions that had collapsed a big buffalo bull. He started bellowing and calling the minute he was down. The entire herd of a thousand buffalo came back for him and ran the lions off. For us, it was a heroic retaliation. But the lions came back and collapsed the bull again and again. Many kills last seconds or only a few minutes, but this one lasted seven hours. It was an unbelievable experience. We were both so drawn into this drama. Time seemed to collapse, and I wasn't aware that seven hours had passed. Lions were running around, and buffalo were chasing toward them and us. Then the lions would go forward and kill again. The day was quite cool, but when I looked around, Beverly and I were both drenched with perspiration from the emotional intensity of what we were witnessing.

Moments like that take you to another level altogether, a level where you not only go up to the window and look inside this untamed world, but every now and again you go through that window and enter that world. Afterward, I noticed blood on my leg that wasn't mine. A buffalo or lion had run past me and sprayed me with blood. But I hadn't realized it because I was so lost in the moment. The experience was almost transcendental.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

Beverly and I were parked on a little rise observing interplay between the lions and the buffalo. The lions separated out two or three buffalo. I was jockeying around to get into the right position, filming in high definition and slow motion. Two buffalo came racing across the grassland, heading for the water. A lioness darted out and shot along, ran full speed right up behind the buffalo, leapt up in the air, and my battery went dead.

So, now I have this wonderful photo that ends perfectly with a lion in the air about to land on a buffalo's back. It's on some shelf somewhere.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

The female lions seem to get on very well when there are no cubs around. But as soon as cubs are brought into the pride, the females begin to attack them. One female in particular, we discovered, was a cub-killer. It was shocking because Dereck and I had never come across this sort of behavior before. We can never know why this lioness kills cubs, but we can only suggest that while we humans tend to feel we have exclusivity on intelligence, language, emotions, and a range of other traits, we actually do not. It isn't impossible that this one lioness has some kind of mental association with cubs—her own lost cubs, perhaps—and each time she sees cubs, she runs to see if they are hers. When they don't react as hers would, she attacks them.

It's just as well that not all the cubs on this island survive. Last year we lost 19, and the year before, 22. That would have been a lot of extra lions to feed and much more pressure on the buffalo.