Lions versus Hyenas
Etosha National Park, Namibia
On the second day at the park we were on the last leg of the day long journey. It was close to 4pm and we need to leave the park by 7pm. It is for safety reasons as in the dark we can run into a huge elephant or a black rhinoceros. Our guide suggested we visit one last watering hole before leaving. All of us were really tired from shooting animals just standing there or a leopard with his dead prey up in the trees. And most of us was looking forward to our own watering hole back at the lodge! An ice cold beer would do us fine!
On arriving at the watering hole we saw about 4 female lions with their catch of the day; a kudu. A large antelope of Namibia. Two of the lions were devouring the kudu while a third one was having a drink. The fourth lion was a distance away.
So we set up on the opposite site of the watering hole (in the vehicle of course) and took some photographs. One lion at a time was taking turns at the kudu.
Most of the animals stay well away from the waterhole knowing that as long as the lions fed on the kudu they are quite safe.
While one is eating the other was keeping watch. The lions were taking their own sweet time about it too.
Another lion was laying down some distance away while the zebras watched. The zebras feel no threat as long as the lion' is focused on the dead kudu.
The zebras must be glad that today was not their last! The lions were sure taking their time. Maybe it was a Michelin star watering hole with great dining options. Two lions were just walking around the perimeter of the watering hole, taking their time,
This lion looked full and lazy. She was just sitting there away from the kudu. Her tummy looks like its full of kudu!
This lion have rested enough so he is going back to the dining table to take a another bite at the kudu. He too, is taking his time.
The watering hole is one of the most dangerous place for animals. The predators like the lions knows it. That is one reason the attack of the kudu occurred near the watering hole. Another is that they could have a drink during the feast on the kudu.
Everything was going great for the lions. Suddenly in the distance near the tree line this creature appeared. It is one of the most dangerous animals in the world. And in a pack, their ability to bring down large prey is well documented.
Driven by the smell of death, hyenas are very good at hunting for dead prey. This was when our guide told us to hold on to our seats and get our cameras ready. Ready for what? He said that what we are about to see he has only seen 5 times in the last 20 years as a guide. Some people come every day into the Park for weeks and they would not be able to see this. The next thing we knew was that the hyena started howling. Have you ever heard a hyena howl? The hair at the back of my neck stood up! Within a few minutes another hyena came out of the tree line. He too began to howl.
Then a third one appeared, and a fourth and then a fifth and so on. The howling was getting very loud.
More hyenas appears from out of the tree line. They were all howling at the same time and within 10 minutes of the sighting of the first hyena, 16 of them were now out of the tree line.
A hyena is about half the size of a female lion. And if they go one on one with a lion, they are no match. But with 16 of them and they are hungry as hell, we now have a live show! The lions know that their time may be up and they moved away from the edge of the watering hole towards the carcass of the kudu.
Even the other animals know something is about to happen. They were all at the tree line waiting for the action to begin.
One of the lions kept watch while the rest of tried to eat as much of the kudu as they can swallow. They all knew that their chances of having the kudu to themselves are getting slimmer as the seconds ticked away.
The smell of death from the kudu is making the hyenas more anxious. And from where they were standing the feast taking place was just too much to bear. The carcass sure look delicious from where they were standing.
The lions sure looked worried. The one standing watch looked towards the rest and seem to say "Would ould you guys please hurry it up, I am getting worried!".
The confrontation begins. The hyenas were sizing up the situation and the lions were roaring to intimidate the hyenas.
After a few rounds of staring, growling and howling by all parties concern, the lions decided to charged at the hyenas.
Here you can see a lion going after a lone hyena. The hyenas are no match for the lion in terms of speed.
And very quickly, the lion gains on the running hyena.
The lion catches up to the scrambling hyena and takes a bite of its back.The lion almost tore off the hind leg of the hyena. It managed to struggle free but was bleeding badly. Hyenas are tough animals. So this one survived the attach and got away with almost everything intact!
Hyenas always hunt in packs. And a pack of 16 hyenas will overcome even a bull elephant according to our guide. And the hyenas are very coordinated during an attack. So a bunch of them will surround a lion and take turns at her. No one can watch their back, so the lions are almost helpless in the face of this forms of attack.
The final assault begins. Between the roar of the lions and the howl of the hyenas the sound created was deafening. You also wouldn’t want to get in the middle of this. I was using a 600mm lens to capture the scene. If you are really brave, buy a Leica with a 35mm and do what Robert Kappa says “If your photographs are not good enough it is because you are not close enough”. I somehow think Robert wasn’t anywhere near a fight between a pride of lions and a pack of hyenas! The lions were frantically eating as fast as they could. They know the hyenas will overwhelm them soon.
I can understand why you need to drink and take a piss even in the heat of battle. But to drink and piss into the same water is just disgusting. Hyenas are such disgusting animals!
The lions still protect their prize catch for the day. They will also eat as much as they can. They do not know when they will eat again but they know they will have to give up the carcass of the kudu to the hyenas soon.
The hyenas were attacking the lions in every direction. Even from the edge of the watering hole.
The lions retaliate as best they could under the circumstances. They were just outnumbered.
Once the lions got distracted, a lone hyena took the opportunity to take a bite of the kudu. Now that is what I call teamwork!
But the lone hyena did not get away with it. Within a few seconds the lions were all over him.
And within seconds all Hell broke loose. The lion was attack from the side by his henas friends.
Hell hath no fury like a lion trying to keep her kudu kill. Even with a hyena biting her backside the lion puts up a hell of a fight. I am not sure if his face shows pain or fury!
As the entrails of the kudu lay nearby, it is the fight to the finish for the lions and hyenas. Their survival depends on it. Who knows when their next meal will be.
I am not sure if she is roaring due to her wounds from the two hyenas that is biting on her backside or she is just trying to get a bite of one of the 5 hyenas surrounding her. The hyenas are not only ferocious but their tactic to divide and conquer was just superb to watch.
But somewhere along this timeline the lions knew their feeding on the kudu has already come to an end. Better retreat than suffer more pain. Leave to fight another day is the best strategy now.
Darwin was right. Only the fittest will survive. The hyenas made sure that whatever is left of the kudu was theirs.
The feeding frenzy begins for the hyenas. The kudu is a big animal and there is surely enough for all. If you notice in the photograph, there is a small light brown fox at the top right hand corner. He is an opportunist. Whenever the hyenas and lions are fighting and they get distracted, he goes in to take a small bite of the kudu!
As with all battles, the soon be vanquish will mount a last effort to claim what is theirs. The lions did just that, but the hyenas is not going to give it up so easily.
Clint Eastwood in the movie Magnum Force said “A man’s got to know his limitations”. Apparently this lion doesn’t. Going up against 8 hyenas is not going to go well for her.
Injured and bloodied from the fray, the lion attempt to retreat. She need to make a huge effort to get out of the mêlée. She did managed to free herself from the attacks in the end.
Hyenas are known scavengers; they will eat anything. Entrails of the kudu are best!
Now that the big cats are gone, even the smaller foxes partake in the feast of the kudu.
It really doesn’t take a long time for 16 hyenas to strip a kudu bare.
The lions after regrouping can only look from afar what the hyenas were up to. At least they had their share of the kudu. They will live to fight another day. Maybe the next time they can bring along a male lion. Our guide told us that it could have been a different ending if it was 4 male lions instead of female lions. For now the law of the jungle prevailed. All in all it was a wonderful day at the Etosha National Park!