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Elephant Eaters Of The Savuti

The following extract is from Leigh's journal, recorded after he witnessed a lion pride taking down an elephant in Botswana's Savuti region.

'An old elephant bull went down near Pump Pan early yesterday and not long after the pride arrived on the scene. The elephant had been attempting to get up but it was too weak and with the arrival of the lions the attempts became more frantic. Other elephants attempted to chase the lions off but each time they would move off only a little way before returning. The lions began to eat the still living elephant from the rear end. The drama continued through the night and into the next day until eventually, after many ever-weakening attempts at getting up, the elephant died. The lions had gorged themselves while the elephant was still alive'.

This pride of lions has since specialised in preying on elephants. They started by killing young elephants, moving onto sub-adults until finally successfully hunting adults. There is a debate as to whether this particular incident set in motion the behaviour of elephant killing now practiced by these lions, where the death throes of the elephant brought to the surface memories of past behaviour.

Today the pride is 32-strong and is renowned for its elephant-killing capabilities.

Elephant Eaters of the Savuti - a matriarch defends her herd
A matriarch elephant defends her herd
Elephant Eaters of the Savuti - a lion brings down a buffalo
Comparing a lion's strength...
Elephant Eaters of the Savuti - the footprints of elephants
...with an elephant's size

FROM ELEPHANTS ... TO TERMITES

Lions have long been one of nature's most capable predators, able to kill any animal in Africa ranging from adult giraffes to rodents. In fact, lions have even been observed licking up termites and other insects from the ground - whether from an urge to eat or from mere inquisitiveness remains open to debate.

In many areas, prides specialise in one species of prey - for example in the Linyanti area of Botswana there is a pride that specialises in hunting hippo while on the Duba Plains of the Okavango Delta there is a pride specialising in buffalo.

How these hunting specialisations came to be is contentious as they were both unrecorded in the past. Are they learned behaviours or memories from the past?

GAMES OF THE ELEPHANT EATERS

The Savuti pride, the elephant killers, came across some banded mongooses, all but one of which managed to escape into a termite mound. The lions began to toy with the one that had not escaped, eventually killing it.

The game did not stop there however and for the next hour I watched members of the pride use the dead mongoose as a toy / football. When they tired of the game they left the carcass without eating it.

Elephant Eaters of the Savuti - a lion successfully pulled down an elephant
A young lion feeds on the carcass
East vs Southern Africa Safaris - two male lions sit next to an elephant carcass
Kings of the Savuti
Elephant Eaters of the Savuti - a pride tries to threaten a lone elephant
Taking down an elephant is no simple task, even for this large pride

LIONS AND HYENAS

Lions are on top of the food chain, dominant over other predators, and there is a general view that lions are the ultimate hunters and hyenas are scavengers. But in fact lions do face intense competition from spotted hyenas. Once thought to be cowering scavengers, hyenas are now known to be worthy adversaries of lions and in places are even dominant over them.

Hyenas are deadly hunters in their own right, are known to steal kills from lions and indeed lions will often scavenge from them. It has been proven that in many areas of Africa the hyena hunts more than the lion does with up to 70% of hyenas' food coming from hunting while lions on the other hand scavenge more than they hunt in many areas.

MALE LIONS

When male lions are in the vicinity of the pride, they will move in on a kill and eat first, leaving the lionesses to wait until they are finished. I have observed interesting behaviour when a pride of lionesses killed a giraffe and began to feed with their cubs. While they fed, the pride male began to call from a distance while moving in the direction of the kill.

I listened as he got nearer, calling continuously. This was the first meal in many days for the lionesses and they were not about to give it up. They remained silent, covering up the stomach contents with sand to prevent the scent from carrying. The male lion passed within one hundred metres of the kill and still the lionesses kept quiet.

LIONS AND WATER

There is a general theory that lions avoid water if they can and this may be true for many parts of Africa. However, the lions of the Okavango Delta in Botswana are very much at home when it comes to water.

The home ranges of the lions are forever undergoing change due to the fluctuating water levels and the prey species are moving constantly from island to island with the result that lions have to cross water to find prey. Indeed, in some parts of the Delta, lions have even adapted to using water during the hunt.

Read more about Botswana or browse our Savuti Tours & Safaris

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