Africa's supersized herbivores don't always get along, but when you're staring down a common enemy, it pays to present a united front.

This intense sighting was caught on camera by tourists at Londolozi Game Reserve, which sits on the western border of South Africa's iconic Kruger National Park.

Safari guide Alistair Smith and his guests had just managed to track down a local lion pride when the big cats' afternoon of R&R took a more exciting turn. A small group of buffalo had ambled onto the scene, and the lions quickly took notice.

"Suddenly there was an explosion of dust and speed and the lions were off! Moments later, they emerged from a river bed chasing a buffalo bull who was doing his best to evade the onslaught of nine lions," Smith recalls. 

With the Kruger Park hard hit by drought, many of its grazers are having a tough time finding adequate food and water – and that means plenty of weakened prey for the area's predators. "Unlike the large buffalo herds of up to a thousand individuals that join up in the summertime when grass and water are abundantly available, the herds tend to split up and fragment during droughts ... It is under these conditions that lions take advantage of weakened stragglers," explains Smith. 

One on one, an adult buffalo can hold its own against a lion, but surrounded by an entire pride, this lone bull was facing some grim odds – which is when salvation appeared in the form of three white rhinos. The buffalo managed to slip past the encircling pride to take refuge behind the impressive bulk of its fellow herbivores, with the rhinos forming a "protective wall" and stopping the lions in their tracks.  

"This kind of interspecies interaction against a common threat was something I had never witnessed before," says Smith.

Lions might have a royal reputation, but a rhino is one animal they typically won't mess with. With the odds now stacked against them, and the threat of potential injury too high, the cats gave up on their dinner and eventually moved off. "It is always challenging to ask a guide what his or her favourite sighting is, because we are privileged enough to witness amazing things on a frequent basis in this great wilderness ... but [this is the] one sighting that comes to mind," says Smith.


Top header image: Pim Stouten, Flickr