Probably the closest call I have had in 25 years of guiding was an incident that happened on a walking safari in Matusidona National Park, just after I got my license. We were tracking a pride of lion that we knew were in the area and as we were following their spoor, I was aware of a heard of buffalo that were walking parallel to us. In my mind, I was already planning to go and find them after we had caught up with the lion’s which we did in due course. As was to be expected they were not delighted to see us and they reacted in typical and predictable fashion- after a bit of snarling and growling they moving off into another thicket out of sight and we decided to let them be and move on. Now sometimes the male in this particular pride would double back as you were leaving and give you a second grunt and growl- not a full charge, but just enough to make sure you knew you weren’t welcome, and in anticipation of this, I switched to walk at the back of the group. I pointed them in the direction of a clearing I could see up ahead, where I knew we would be running into the buffalo, and we set off again with me looking over my shoulder in case the lion’s came back. As we came to the edge of the clearing I ran into the person in front of me and realized that the whole group had stuttered to a halt because they had now spotted the large heard of buffalo up ahead. Typically buffalo in herds are docile beasts, or so I thought! I strode confidently to the head of the line, to lead them out into the open where I expecting to find the usual spectacle, of a large herd of bovines milling around for our viewing pleasure and boy- was I in for a surprise! You see, unbeknownst to me, the lion’s had been terrorizing that heard of buffalo all night, and now with us disturbing the lion’s, the buffalo had heard the growl’s and every bull in the herd had now decided to settle this matter once and for all. The sight that greeted me emerging from the Mopani scrub was that of a gang of 50 angry buffalo bulls bearing down on me at a brisk trot.
Now for a guide on foot, the prospect of a single charging Buffalo is the stuff of nightmares, but I didn’t have they first clue what one should do, when faced with 50 charging buffalo! For starters I only carried 20 rounds of ammunition for my rifle, which was considered a bit excessive by most of my colleagues, but in spite of this there was definitely not going to be enough bullets to go around. I decided that since the buffalo’s argument was with the lion’s our best course of action was to get out of their way, but as soon as we moved sideways they tracked on our movement and began coming even faster. Faced with this “Custer’s Last Stand” scenario, I decided that I would rather take my chances with a pride of lion in thick bush, than 50 angry buffalo out in the open, and beat a hasty retreat back towards where we had come from. Fortunately this proved to be the right course of action as the buffalo phalanx thundered right up to the brush line, but not knowing exactly where the lion’s were in the thicket, they were reluctant to go any further.They milled around on the edge of the clearing, bellowing and taking out their considerable frustrations on the Mopani scrub while we ducked back through the brush, all the while keeping a sharp eye out in case we ran into the lion’s again. We eventually made it safely back to camp, to my great relief but I had learned a valuable lesson about never taking for granted how you expect certain animals to behave in any given situation.