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David and Goliath in the wild

David and Goliath in the wild

David and Goliath in the wild


What started out as a normal morning quickly turned into the most incredible observation session I’ve had as a research assistant with the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust. Before dawn I picked up a signal for ‘Hector’, a collared adult male lion, on the tracking-mast at camp and headed out to track him down. I found him about 1.5km north of our camp, in the Santawani area south of Moremi Game Reserve. He was heading northeast with some serious determination.

He was walking fast and I followed him, trying to keep a visual on him in order to collect behavioural data. Finally he stopped at a dry pan and froze, stared directly ahead, his tail jerking back and forth. He just kept looking forward, standing completely still apart from his twitching tail.

Hector had seen a lone young elephant at the pan. The elephant looked up, saw Hector, and wheeled around. It broke into a sprint and headed straight back into the tree line. Hector burst into the pan and chased the elephant at full speed, gaining on it as they crashed through the trees and thorns. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I heard an elephant trumpeting, and the extremely loud crashing of leaves and twigs. By the time I had manoeuvred my vehicle around the pan and through the mopane, the elephant was on the ground with Hector on its throat.

The elephant was kicking wildly, flinging its trunk around and making gurgling sounds but Hector already had it on its side. The elephant must have outweighed the lion several times but Hector kept it down. He struggled to stay on its throat and kept grappling its side to keep it down. He held it by the neck for nearly 20 minutes but it was still breathing heavily, kicking and making some horrendous sounds.

Hector moved to the elephant’s belly and while it lay there, clearly alive, he started to eat. It took about an hour and a half for the elephant to die. It was a truly painful yet amazing thing to witness. I'll never know how that single lion pulled down the elephant, or whether the elephant tripped, allowing Hector his death grip, but it was certainly not something you see every day, and worth sharing, given the male lion’s reputation as a back-seat hunter.

BPCT is requesting photographs of male lions from the Savuti area taken from 2005 onwards, to try to determine Hector’s origin. Savuti lions are known for their elephant-killing prowess, and it is suspected that Hector and his three coalition companions may have dispersed from there.

More from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (December 2013)

More from the Zambezi Traveller:
Okavango Destination Profile