The lion and elephant populations of Ruaha National Park are well-known. Along the rivers, they frequently cross paths, with the lions displaying respect for the elephants' enormous size or the elephants becoming agitated and rumbling away with their heads raised high. This time, though, one elephant made a mistake, and lions will not pass up an opportunity.
The Battle Begins
Five lions were lying on the opposite bank of the Mwagusi Sand River, and my guests and I had been observing them for a little while when two herds of elephants came down to the river to drink. Elephants were playing in the mud, as they enjoy doing, and neither the lions nor the elephants gave each other much attention. We moved to a safe spot down the river for a break in order to get some drinks and have a break.
Although we could still make out some of the lions in the distance, three very close-up elephant bulls had our attention. I spotted a little, lone elephant wandering along the river as we were loading back up the drinks. When one of the lionesses stood up, stooped down into the riverbed, and began pacing in the direction of the little elephant, as I was musing on how strange it was to see such a small elephant by itself.
Suddenly, without warning, she leaped and flung herself atop the little elephant's back, and before we could react the battle had begun.
[WARNING This post contains graphic images that may be disturbing to viewers. Viewer discretion is advised]
The Power of Nature
We leapt into the 4x4 and sped down the riverside, as we got closer to the elephant we could see there were two, then three, lions on top of her, attempting to knock her to the ground. At this point the elephant already appeared to be exhausted as it collapsed very rapidly, but we knew the elephant was still alive.
It started to yell out in fright, so the lions became uneasy and continued to scan their surroundings. They had done this before and were aware that the nearby noise would draw in other elephants.
Shortly enough, a few females came to join the calf's defence and drove the lions away. One of the adult elephants, possibly a relative did her best to help the calf stand up. However at this point the calf appeared desolate, and there seemed nothing they could do, so the adult elephant turned to walk away in anger and dread.
The lions circled the calf once more in agonising full-scale and terrifying hunt mode. So the adult female elephant turned around on her heels and scared the lions away once more, who this time made a fast retreat in recognition of the elephants' enormous size.
At this point the calf was unable to stand up again due to a mixture of shock, confusion, and leg injuries. Unfortunately for the calf, its mother had seemed to have already disappeared from view. The other adult elephant, who had tried so hard to protect the calf eventually fled too, after realising how helpless the situation was, leaving the calf to sadly meet its demise.
As we left the scene, we speculated on the events that had lead to such an unusual sighting. One theory is that the calf must have become separated from its mother and the rest of her group during the excitement and commotion when the inital two elephant herds had come down to drink.
We believe the elephant who tried to save the calf was likely to not be its mother. Given the strong relationship between mother elephants and their young, if it had been the mother, it would never have gone so swiftly.
The is nature at its most intense, and a dramatic, terrible, and amazing sight to behold. Even though it was just another day in the wilderness, none of us will ever forget it.