Ruaha national park is known for its large populations of lions and elephants. It's quite common to see them come across each other along the rivers, with the lions showing respect for the elephants massive size or the elephants getting flustered and rumbling away with their heads held high. This time however, one elephant made a mistake and lions make their living from punishing mistakes. Since then I've come to think the elephant could have been an orphan, so unusual it is for a mother and family group to leave a calf. Here's what happened:
Myself and my guests had found a group of 5 lions lying on the far bank of the Mwagusi sand river and had been watching them for some time when two groups of elephants came down to the river to drink. Frolicking in the mud, as elephants love to do, neither lions nor elephants paid much attention to each other initially. In need of some refreshments and a stretch of the legs we made our way to a safe distance down the river for a break.
We could still see the lions at a distance but were more preoccupied with some elephant bulls walking past us very close. As we were packing up the drinks I saw a small lone elephant walking across the river. As I was thinking how odd it was to see such a small elephant on its own, one of the lionesses got up and starting trotting across the river in the direction of the elephant. “No way” I thought, ‘She couldn’t possibly”. Next thing we knew she had jumped and launched herself onto the back of the elephant.
We jumped into the 4x4 and raced back up the riverbank, as we pulled alongside there were 2 and then 3 lions on top of the elephant trying to bring her down. Very quickly the elephant collapsed, seemingly from exhaustion, it looked like it was all over, but I knew the elephant was still alive. The lions were anxious and kept looking around nervously as the calf screamed in alarm. They had done this before and knew the noise could attract elephants nearby.
Soon enough, a small group of females did come to the calves aid, chasing the lions off. Heart breakingly, the adult female did all she could to bring the calf to its feet. In frustration and fear the adult elephant turned away as the calf appeared forlorn. Agonisingly the lions, now in full and terrifying hunt mode, circled the calf again. The calf screamed out in desperation, the adult female spun around on her heels and again chased the lions off; who this time made a hasty retreat in respect of the elephants awesome size.
When the two elephant herds had come down to drink, the calf must have become separated from its mother and the rest of its group in the excitement and confusion. Through a combination of panic, disorientation and injuries to its legs, the calf could not get back to its feet. Fatally for the calf, its mother had already moved off out of earshot. Sensing the hopelessness of the situation the adult elephant finally left and the calf suffered its fate. If it had been the mother it would never of left so quickly, such is the bond between mother elephants and their young. It was an incredibly dramatic, tragic and amazing sighting to watch; nature at its most brutal. Just another day in the wild but surely one none of us will ever forget.
This series of photos also appeared in the news. Although they jumbled up the story, it's worth reading for the cliche sensationalism and the wonderful comments section, which you can filter for most crazy.