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Intimate Enemies

The Waiting Game 1 | 2

In central Tanzania, the Great Ruaha River spills down from steep mountains onto a brushy plain alive with wildlife. Crocodiles sun on sand bars while hippos wallow in the shallows. Flocks of shimmering birds flutter in riverside bushes. And especially in the dry season, from June to December, great herds of grazing animals gather on the Ruaha's banks, awaiting their turn to quench their thirst. Among them are numerous broad-shouldered African buffalo, imposing creatures that can weigh nearly a ton and bristle with sharp, curving horns.

Lions must wait for the right moment to attack buffalo.
The gathering sets the stage for a life-and-death drama. For waiting in the weeds are hungry lions, eager to snatch any buffalo that shows signs of vulnerability. But the hunters must be wary, for even a single swipe of a buffalo's horns can leave a lion crippled or dead.

NATURE travels to the banks of the Ruaha for a suspenseful look at this high-stakes contest. INTIMATE ENEMIES: LIONS AND BUFFALO profiles both predator and prey, and chronicles moments both tender and fierce, from a mother lion caring for her cubs to an enraged bull buffalo fending off a pride of attacking lions. There is also remarkable, slow-motion footage of lions on the prowl, and amusing cameo appearances by tickbirds, the jovial flyers that hitch a ride on buffalo backs. In exchange for the lift, the birds eat parasites and keep a lookout for predators, an unusual kind of biological cooperation called "symbiosis."

The action takes place in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania's second-largest national park. In a country famous for Mount Kilmanjaro, the world's tallest free-standing mountain, and Lake Victoria, one of the planet's largest lakes, the Ruaha reserve is a hidden treasure. Its remoteness and torrential rains that turn the ground to goo for much of the year have kept it off most tourist itineraries, but the reserve has long been a magnet for wildlife researchers and photographers.

A particular attraction is the park's abundant lions and buffalo. To seasoned African wildlife watchers, the two animals are among the celebrated "big five" safari attractions. They rank with elephants, leopards, and rhinos as among the most exciting sights in nature.

The Waiting Game
Patience is key for hungry lions

Partners for Life
How symbiosis helps both buffalo and bird

Contest of Equals
These two animals are well-suited for battle

Web links and books about lions and buffalo