Filmed in South Africa's Kruger National Park, the video was captured by regular visitor Dean Grant, who was astonished not only by the rare sighting, but also by the decision of other tourists to stay so close to the action. (For those planning a safari in the near future, this clip serves as a good lesson on why it's important to give wild animals their space.)
As the ambitious lions take turns trying to get a claw into their massive prey, the hippo suddenly lunges at a nearby stationary vehicle amid the confusion of the attack. Hippos are armed with 50-centimetre (20-inch) canines and, despite that lumbering gait, they can move surprisingly quickly. In fact, these mega-herbivores have earned a reputation as one of Africa's most dangerous animals.
It's unusual for lions to target an adult hippo, and rangers at the reserve were certainly surprised when Grant relayed his story. "Having visited game parks on many family holidays growing up, we had never seen anything like this," he told Latest Sightings.
Although there have been recorded instances of hippos being attacked and killed by lions, the aquatic herbivores don't usually feature in the big cats' diet. According to Luke Hunter, president of cat conservation group Panthera, surveys carried out between 1988 and 2000 in a reserve that forms part of the greater Kruger Park ecosystem identified over 4,000 kills by large carnivores. Only one of these was a hippo killed by lions.
"Lions will not want to put themselves at significant risk of injury in taking on large mammals, which can very easily injure them," Mike Watson, CEO of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, told National Geographic following a similar incident back in 2012. "In my experience, lions are known to go for the easiest targets – and hippo, elephant and [adult] giraffe certainly do not fall into this category."
Unfortunately for the hippo in this video, a relentless onslaught from the lion pride proved too much. "The sighting ended when the hippo made its way down into a ditch off the road just out of sight," Grant recalls. "The lions were now taking turns at attacking the hippo and getting through its tough skin while the others lay up the hill in the shade panting and taking small naps." When Grant and his family returned later that afternoon, the big cats were sleeping off their hard-won meal.
While a lion-vs-hippo showdown is an unlikely one, a hippo-vs-Land Rover scenario is even more so. Official park regulations are not explicitly clear regarding safe distances when game viewing, but the generally accepted rule is to assess the situation and back off if there's a risk of impeding wildlife in any way. Disturbing animals in South African national parks is considered a serious offence. In this case, the tourists got off lightly – we've seen incidents in the past where close encounters have ended a lot more dramatically:
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