Though the desirability of their ivory tusks is considered the biggest threat to their population, African elephants need to be wary of more than just poachers. On occasion, they find themselves in skirmishes with one non-human menace in their environment: the lion.
And a group of sightseers was eyewitness to one of these scuffles while visiting the Norman Carr Safaris Chinzombo Camp in eastern Zambia. They watched as a pride of fourteen lionesses and their cubs marked a baby elephant that had become separated from its herd as potential prey. The calf, however, made an impressive contender for the big cats.
The visitors snapped photos and recorded video as the tussle between the pachyderm and its predators unfolded. The group included artist and LIU Post professor Dan Christoffel and journalists Jesse Nash and Nina Karnikowski, according to a newsletter on the Norman Carr Safaris website.
While elephants coexist, for the most part peacefully, with other large species like buffalo and bushpig, they tend to maintain chilly relations with the predatory lion. The mammoth mammals sometimes even seek out lions within their vicinity and chase them away as a precautionary tactic, according to the San Diego Zoo's Global Library website.
As the elephant near the Chinzombo Camp struggled to fend off the female lions, one of the riders in the safari vehicle asked how the young elephant ended up alone.
"Where are the other elephants, for God's sake?" said the observer while taping the encounter.
When lions target an elephant, they typically go after a younger elephant or a female that is separated from its herd by at least a few dozen meters. The hunting lion will approach the elephant from behind because, when their presence is known, members of the elephant herd can band together, facing outwards in a circular formation to protect their young.
Though at one point the baby jumbo had three lions latched onto its back, it was able to shake off the predatory lionesses upon wading through nearby shallow water. Lions are not regular swimmers, only crossing rivers or other bodies of water when necessary. The calf used other survival techniques as well, such as swinging its body around swiftly, making trumpeting sounds to intimidate the large cats, and kicking its hind legs to push a lioness from its back.
The video recording ends with the pachyderm making a final stand as the lioness pride retreats, but the elephant has since reunited with its herd, according to the New York Post.
After witnessing the elephant's triumphant escape, the group on the game drive dubbed the calf "Hercules."
"In the many years I have been a safari guide in Zambia at the South Luangwa, never have I seen anything like this," Innocent, one of the guides on the game drive, told a spokesperson for Norman Carr Safaris.