Written by: David Liebst
We all expect to see lions hunting buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and impala but, increasingly in the Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania, we are seeing them going for bigger game.
I can imagine nothing easy about taking down a 1,000kg of buffalo, especially when the unhappy fellow’s foot is in your mouth, but lions seem undeterred. There is nothing quite like witnessing a lion kill. The thing that sets lions apart from other predators is the size of the prey that they are willing to take on. Opportunistic survivalists, lions will adapt to any circumstance.
But at Mdonya Old River in the western part of the Ruaha, the lions have taken things to a new level.
A few years ago, the Mdonya pride was the largest in the park, with about 24 members at its peak. Buffalo are big animals, but when you have twenty-four hungry mouths to feed, they don’t tend to go a long way. Furthermore, only about one in seven lion hunts are typically successful. As their numbers grew, the pride found themselves starving, and so being lions, they adapted by learning to hunt giraffes, and then elephants.
Elephant in Ruaha are large and can weigh up to eight tonnes. A big male lion can weigh up to 220kg, so in some cases the elephant can weigh more than the entire lion pride put together.
The Mdonya pride has now split into three smaller prides, but the core pride is still able to take down elephants. To be precise, these lions are choosing young, teenage elephants as targets as they are relatively independent but not yet totally safe, as opposed to the smallest calves, which are much more protected by the herd, with mothers, sisters and cousins always around them.