I've spent far too much time, since coming online in 1996, looking at literally hundreds of thousands of wildlife photographs. And the picture above, without doubt, is one of the most extraordinary images I've ever come across.
Lions Hunting Elephants is a new phenomenon that is freaking out animal experts, and wildlife documentary film-makers, and wildlife photography addicts.
In nature, nothing is stagnant, nor anything too sacred. Lions and elephants have moved amongst each other in Africa for hundreds of thousands of years, but there are few, if any, credible reports of lions hunting and killing elephants, until now.
The image above was taken by a BBC crew in Botswana, where a pride of lions have been apparently driven by hunger to turning on one of the few animals that poses a serious threat to their lives.
Excerpts From Feature Story In The 'London Times :
Lions are among the animal kingdom’s most brutal and efficient predators but no one had heard of them hunting elephants before. These two big beasts of the savannah have plenty of mutual respect and normally give each other a wide berth.
The lions hunt elephants because they have discovered that they can. The Savute elephant killers are an unusually large pride that fluctuates between 30 and 50 animals. The dry season has always been a desperate time for wildlife in northern Botswana. One year, perhaps, water, and therefore prey, was scarcer than ever and a small or weak elephant was killed in a moment of bold opportunism. Then there was no turning back.
Most of the hunting takes place at night when it is cool and the elephants, with their poor night vision, are at a distinct disadvantage against lions.
By day the elephants rule, dominating the water holes that are at the centre of the nocturnal dance of death.
The balance of power shifts as night falls. Breeding herds start to pass through. Groups of female elephants guide their young to the water hole, which becomes crowded with as many as 30 or 40 elephants, noisily sluicing and splashing.
...when the roaring begins, it comes as such a surprise that we are surrounded by lions. The noise is intended to intimidate the herds passing through. The lionesses check out the elephants as they pass, looking for vulnerable targets. They get very interested in a calf and its mother and other adults have to close ranks to shepherd it through the pride.
The elephants trumpet with panic as they crash through the undergrowth. One of the lionesses jumps on the young elephant’s back and another grabs its haunches. The hind-leg tendons are severed and the animal crashes to the ground. The rest of the lions pile in. The mother thunders off into the bush, apparently realising that there is nothing she can do to protect her child from this onslaught. “
The hunt, from the moment the lionesses spotted their victim until they felled it, lasted just 30 seconds.
The whole story of the BBC crew witnessing, and filming, the lions taking down and devouring elephants is worth a read. But it's not pretty.