For three days solid two young male lions and a female fed off a buffalo carcass at Back Pans in the Wilderness Hwange concession. They brought the massive beast to his demise conveniently just a very short distance away from one of the pans, so they literally had a feast of meat and water that they gorged themselves on until there was nothing left.
For the lions, that is. Not the case for the vultures that patiently hung around for three days waiting their turn at the scraps from the king’s feast. Lappet, hooded and white-backed vultures perched prominently on trees around the scene of the kill while some of their compatriots waited patiently at a safer distance, hoping to be the first at the bones once the lions finally vacated the scene for good.
Late one morning on our way back to camp we found the last of the trio picking his teeth with the thick rib-cage of the buffalo. Mike told me that we should hang out here, because the lion would move off and then the action would begin. I always marvel at how he knows these things – it is exactly what happened. The lion heaved up his heavy over-indulged self, allowing his engorged stomach to hang impressively while he panted furiously with the effort of just standing up. He got himself into a swagger that allowed all the heaviness to move in tandem and disappeared into the bushes to rest.
No sooner had I taken my eyes off him than the frenetic chaos began. From everywhere vultures appeared. Some coming from the thermals high up in the clear blue sky, dropping down with treacherous landing gear pushed forward. They squawked and squealed as they jumped around the remains of the carcass and sometimes on one another. Every now and again they would get a “spook” and as one they would take off briefly and then half lope and half flap back to where they were. Fights would break out among them and sharp hooked beaks would gnash threateningly and then they would go back to the business of stripping the bones bare.
In amongst this melee appeared a black-backed jackal. He was without a doubt the bravest little guy I have ever met in my life. He assessed the scene and then he pinned back his ears and gave an impressive charge – straight through the middle of all the vultures, forcing them into the air, creating a clear circle in the centre of the feast. He bared his teeth, nipped and charged at tremendous speed and with menacing intent. Once a white-backed vulture flew down and I am sure scratched his back, to which he responded by leaping onto his back legs becoming airborne himself, extending himself and arching his back as he snapped his jaw and raked with his front paws.
His timid wife joined him and the two of them made a meal out of the meat that was left on the buffalo skin. With shifting eyes and regular interruptions to clear the circle when vultures came too close for comfort, this little couple feasted and it was a joy to see.