Africa Travel Articles
Elephant Eaters Of The Savuti
Author: Leigh Kemp
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.
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.