The marsh lion pride of Botswana

An aerial view of a pride of lion

Throughout Africa, elephants are not thought of as lion prey, with only three exceptions; the pride manages to separate a small calf from its mother (a rare occurrence), an elephant is very sick and weak, or the lion belongs to Savuti’s notorious Marsh Pride. This fearless pride of lions, which once numbered 30 +, killed 74 elephants during a three year period (1993 – 1996), a phenomenon recorded by filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert. The Joubert’s film, Ultimate Enemies (National Geographic) tells the story, as well as the more recent Planet Earth Series: Great Plains (BBC). This outrageously risqué behavior on the part of the lions happens mainly between August and November, peaking in October. According to scientist Richard John Powder, the lions may be reverting to a role they once had during the Pleistocene era as hunters of megaherbivores. The behavior could also be rooted in Savuti’s long history of drought periods where near-starved elephants were easy to bring down, helping the lions hone their elephant-killing tactics. The introduction of artificial waterholes could have also played a role by encouraging elephants to become permanent residents (rather than migrating to other regions), and so readily available to feed unusually large lion prides. Today, the lion prides of Chobe are more fragmented and lions prey on elephant less frequently, but the legacy remains.

Lion basking in the sun