An unusual menu for lions

September 13, 2017

Lioness on a giraffe kill in Ruaha National Park - photo by Rebecca Phillips


We all expect to see lions hunting buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and impala – but increasingly in the Ruaha National Park in Southern Tanzania we are seeing them going for bigger game.


There is nothing quite like witnessing a lion kill. The thing that sets lions apart from other predators is the size of the prey they are willing to take on. I can imagine nothing easy about taking down a 1000 kilos of buffalo, especially when the unhappy fellow’s foot is in your mouth, but the lions seem undeterred. Opportunistic survivalists, they will adapt themselves to any circumstance. At Mdonya Old River camp in the western part of the Ruaha, the lions have taken things to a new level.


 Ruaha landscape with giraffes - photo by Flo Montgomery


A few years ago, the Mdonya pride was the largest in the park, numbering at the peak about 30 strong. Buffalo are big animals, but when you have so many hungry mouths to feed, they don’t tend to go a long way. Furthermore, typically about one in seven lion hunts are successful. As their numbers grew, the pride found themselves starving, and so being lions, they adapted by learning to hunt first giraffes, then elephants. 


Lions on a giraffe kill in Ruaha - photo by Andrea Pompele


Lions of the Mdonya pride on giraffe in Ruaha - photo by Rebecca Phillips


Giraffe are protected game in Tanzania - they are the national emblem and it is forbidden to kill them. But not for the king of beasts. First the Mdonya lions learned to take down smaller, injured giraffe but soon perfected the art of hunting bigger prey.


 Young elephant in Ruaha - photo by David Liebst


 Ruaha elephants taking a dust bath - photo by Rebecca Phillips


Elephant in the Ruaha are large and can weigh up to 7 or 8 tons. A big male lion will weigh in at 250 kgs, a female around 100 kg shy of that, so in some cases the elephant will weigh more than the entire pride put together. No plush easy lifestyle for these monarchs.


 Lioness on elephant kill - photo by Rebecca Phillips


The Mdonya pride has now split into three smaller prides but the core pride are still able to take down elephants. To be precise, these lions are choosing as targets young “teenage” elephants, who are relatively independent but not yet totally safe rather than the smallest calves, who are much more protected by the herd with mothers, sisters and cousins always around them.


 Lions on an elephant kill in Ruaha - photo by Rebecca Phillips


 Lions on an elephant kill in Ruaha - photo by Andrea Pompele


If you would like to know more about the lions of Ruaha, and how and when to visit Ruaha National Park please contact David and Flo at


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