Snapshot Serengeti Talk

Predation upon mixed herds

  • Jaqqson by Jaqqson

    Having heard stories of cape buffalo banding together to form shield-walls and using their bulk to beat up lions that attack the herd, they seem somewhat 'altruistic' when under attack from predators, especially when there are young buffalo. I didn't realise before helping with this project that you can often get 'mixed herds' with zebra and wildebeest and buffalo all grazing in the same areas at once.

    In such an instance, if lions were to attack a herd of mixed animals, what happens? Do the buffalo all bunch up to protect their young and "oh well, it sucks if you're a zebra"? Or will buffalo, wildebeest and zebra all huddle together as a group to avoid being picked off?


  • tillydad by tillydad moderator in response to Jaqqson's comment.

    The different species may graze together but if an attack were to take place they do not all join forces to counter it .

    During an attack the buffalo herd will often close ranks and run in a tight formation . Interestingly, this will not be at their top speed and this ensures that the young, and any buffalo that is not fully fit, can stay together in formation and this makes it difficult for a predator to single any one individual out . Another strategy sometimes employed is for the herd to mob the predator(s), which are normally lions, and to drive them away . There have been well documented cases where lions have been forced up into trees for several hours . The mobbing effect is dangerous for attackers as they may well be trampled underfoot if they are unable to get out of the way . This mobbing response is normally triggered by a calf's distress call or by adults using the same distress call .

    Individual buffalo, normally older males who may have injuries or disease, are much easier for lions to attack although a fully fit adult buffalo can outrun the attacking pack . Lions can reach a short burst speed of 80 kph, as opposed to the top speed of a buffalo, which is 56 kph, but crucially it can maintain this over a longer distance .

    If a pride of lions does manage to bring down a herd member then the remaining members will sometimes seem to realise that it is too late to intervene and will stand and watch the lions as they complete the kill . As with all animals there are complex behavioural patterns that do not necessarily follow the examples above 😃


  • davidbygott by davidbygott moderator

    Good answer. Buffalo are the only prey species that will stand up to a lion - for wildebeest, zebra and all the rest, flight is the best option and they can all outrun lions if they get about 20m head start. Buffalo v. lion is an evolving arms race - each species is capable of killing the other, one on one, and each finds a definite advantage in cooperation. Some lion prides become very good at tackling buffalo. Often their strategy is to go after lone bulls - even though very large, they may not inflict as much damage on the lions as if the bull had supportive friends. Some buffalo herds also become good at defending themselves against lions. I have heard of cases where lions actually had a buffalo pinned down and its herd successfully rescued it. Once I found lions with a fresh buffalo kill and the buffalo herd wouldn't give up. They kept charging and harassing the lions, even though their friend was beyond rescue.


  • tillydad by tillydad moderator in response to davidbygott's comment.

    It is an interesting fact that different prides and herds in different geographical locations have developed different strategies . Some lion prides will never tackle a buffalo, whilst others hunt them on a regular basis .

    We have all probably seen the various amateur footage of lion v buffalo encounters on youtube, but if not they are worth watching !! 😃