Elephants and lions are undoubtedly two of Africa’s most iconic wild animals. As human beings we have a fascination with power, and being in charge. It is not surprising then that I am often asked the question of which one of the two animals is the boss.
It is an interesting question and, for me, it definitely has more than one answer. Most often when the two species meet, it is the lions who give way. Lions are most active at night, but will frequently finish up their movements close to a river or waterhole, where they are likely to lie and rest during the day. Elephants are active day and night, but will usually move to drink water each day, usually in the late morning. In this way they often encounter the resting lions.
I witnessed just such an occasion whilst at Chitabe Camp in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. A pair of male lions had just come to rest close to a pan filled with water. In the mid-morning a bull elephant approached the same waterhole, and he only caught sight of the lions when he was already close to them. The elephant could easily have gone around the lions, but instead he stood tall, flared his ears and ran a short distance at them. This was enough to drive the lions a few hundred metres away, and the elephant continued on his way with a visible air of satisfaction at the result.
However, meetings between the two species don’t always end that way. Given certain circumstances, lions will prey on young elephants, or even older elephants that might be in some sort of weakened state. In Botswana, elephant hunting by lions has been recorded most often in the northern wildlife areas of Savuti, Linyanti and the Chobe National Park. It happens most often when large prides of female lions *or* male lion coalitions attack elephants. This behaviour seems to be more prevalent during long, dry periods, which may indicate that the elephants lose condition and perhaps become weakened.
Images attached to this text are of a pair of male lions being chased by a bull elephant at Chitabe, and a male lion from a coalition known as the Border Boys, feeding on a young elephant killed by this male and his coalition partner. This took place in 2008 along the Linyanti River.