The available grazing along the Luangwa River is extremely limited in September, which drives animals such as hippo, deeper inland and away from the rivers to get enough food. This is when certain lions in the area, who have become specialized “hippo killers,” take their chances at hunting and pulling down these huge and very dangerous animals. A hippo is very capable of killing a lion by biting it. Their huge tusks would cut a lion in half, so lions run the risk of injury or death when they hunt hippo, but if they get it right, it’s a huge reward and many days of feeding!

In this particular area there are several prides and coalitions of males that have become “specialist hippo killers.” They patrol the Luangwa River during the evenings as the hippos leave the river to feed. This hippo was killed less than 200 yards from the river and judging from the scene, the lions probably pulled it down as it was returning on one of the many hippo trails that the hippos use to and from the water each evening. We found the kill just after first light, when the lions had just started feeding.

Over the course of the next few days we saw a total of 8 separate male lions come and go from the carcass, causing some interesting interaction between the various lions, who don’t tolerate intruders around a kill. We also watched as a herd of elephant approached the kill site. When they realized that lions were there, the young calves grouped together in the center of the herd, while some of the larger adults charged the lions trying to intimidate them. The reason for this is that the lion on occasion will kill young elephants, especially these lions that are adept at pulling down larger animals such as hippo.

As the days progressed, we saw the vulture numbers increase and they finally got a chance to feast when the lions moved away…and joining them, some spotted hyena that had been patiently waiting at a respectful distance for the male lions to leave.

An incredible sighting and one that is not often seen! This is what going on safari is all about, you just never know what’s going to happen in the wild!