The Sand River, which courses through a perennial belt of green across Londolozi, is home to a myriad of different species. Various water birds trot on the buoyant water plants, Hippos seek shelter from the blistering sun and buffalo and elephants are attracted to the life giving resource to quench their thirst.

Hidden within the nooks and crannies of this winsome river is a creature that has adapted perfectly to its environment. A creature which has been the subject of stories and folklore for thousands of years.  A creature I consider to be the most efficient and successful predator at Londolozi: the Nile crocodile.

Crocodiles are incredibly well adapted to their environment, and although they might look prehistoric they are the most advanced reptile of our age. Unlike other reptiles they have a four-chambered heart, diaphragm and cerebral cortex (a structure within the vertebrate brain with distinct structural and functional properties). The evolution of crocodiles has been a long one, with the first members of the family being around over 200 million years ago. Modern crocodiles as we know them have remained largely unchanged since the extinction of the dinosaurs, approximately 65 million years ago. They are the apex predator of Africa.

Elephant Crocodile JT

Even elephants are wary of crocodiles, as evidenced by this standoff. Many an elephant has had its trunk grabbed by one of these reptilian predators. Photograph by James Tyrrell

 

Now I know what you are going to say; what about the lion? The lion is regarded by many to be the apex predator of the African savanna, but I will try and convince you otherwise with a story about lion and crocodile interaction at Londolozi from a few years ago.

The two Shaws male lions dominated the alluring, lush grasslands of Londolozi. As is typical with male lions, they ambled along patrolling their territory with seemingly no care in the world. On the morning in question, their morning patrol took them past Mvubu dam, which is relatively close to camp. Both males had built up a thirst and needed to satisfy it. As nonchalant as only a lion can appear, they approached the dam without a care in the world. What they did not realise was that lurking in the murky waterhole was a predator that was about to change the history of Londolozi. One of the Shaws males approached the waterhole and stooped down, sipping water quite leisurely. Suddenly the placid surface of the water exploded as a torpedo-shaped crocodile erupted from under the lion’s nose, clamping down on his muzzle. Trackers visiting the scene later to work out what had happened saw two deep gouges scarred into the earth from the lions paws as he struggled to prevent himself being dragged to a watery grave.
Crocodiles drag their prey underwater to drown them. Once the prey is dead, the crocodile may then feed at its leisure, often waiting a couple of days for the meat to begin decomposing, making it easier to rip chunks of.
In the incident in question, the second Shaws male was found that afternoon, still near the waterhole, calling forlornly for his brother.

By killing this lion, the subaqueous crocodile changed the entire dynamic of lions at Londolozi. The surviving Shaw’s male was unable to protect the territory and left a void for what has now become the most infamous coalition of male lions probably in the world, the Mapogo.

Lioness Drink

If given a choice, lions would far rather drink from a rainwater puddle than a large waterhole or river. Not only is the water probably cleaner, but they are well aware of what danger may be lurking in the deeper water… Photograph by James Tyrrell

As I mentioned before, stories have been told about crocodiles for thousands of years. One of the most disquieting ones originated In West Africa. Before a judge or jury existed, the local tribes would decide the fate of a convicted felon by means of a sinister ceremony. This involved the felon swimming across a body of water in which crocodiles were known to abide. If the accused was caught by a crocodile it would mean he was guilty. If he made it to safety he was innocent. This eerie tradition was called “trial by crocodile”.

For as long as humans have walked this earth, these magnificent predators have been around hunting more successfully than any land based solitary predator and cleansing the rivers of rancid food particles. Using ambush, copious amounts of patience and formidable strength, the crocodile moves furtively through the water systems of Africa. Flawlessly designed, they lie in wait for anything and everything they can overpower. Remember, in the wild it is all about survival, and in my opinion no animal does that better than the crocodile.

Watch this video, taken in the Kruger National Park, of a lion almost almost becoming a meal for a crocodile (don’t worry, the lion gets away):

So on your next visit, be sure to watch the lions moving through the grasslands as the supposed apex predator of the area. Enjoy the quintessential African safari as you stop for sundowners next to one of the waterholes scattered throughout the territory.

Just don’t stand too close to the water!

Filed under Featured Wildlife

About the Author

Werner Breedt

Field Guide

Werner guided at Londolozi from 2014-2016, but misses it so much now that he is based down in the Western Cape that he begged to be able to continue contributing to the blog. Look out for his posts on a wide range of ...

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10 Comments

on Londolozi’s REAL Apex Predator

Mike D.
Guest

It is crazy that a croc can successfully pull a full grown male lion from the shore into the water and attack from water only inches deep. It must have been a very large croc. Perhaps other crocs joined in the tug of war during the struggle. Very sad for the lion and his partner. It shows how indiscriminate crocs when hunting.

MJ Bradley
Guest

A male lions bite force is around 600 psi, a Nile crocodile’s bite force is around 5000 psi.. They are certainly a force to be reckoned with.

MJ Bradley
Guest

eeeeeeekkk!! Croc are scary and your Nile Crocs are the biggest in the world.. I agree they are probably the Apex predator.

Geri Potter
Guest

I truly hate crocodiles and alligators, equally. I understand their function, but I hate them because they are unseen, unheard and totally unpredictable. They will jump from nowhere, underwater or on land to entrap their prey. OR, they will lounge….as I said unpredictable. There are NO warning signs and they are lethal. Every time we encountered one, I was happy to move on. Yes, they are the apex predator.

Jill Larone
Guest

I have to admit, I really dislike crocodiles and find them terrifying. What a horrible death for the poor Shaws male lion. I definitely won’t be standing close to the water when I’m there next!

Nicolette Krajewski
Guest

Good blog post, Werner! Must have given the Shaws Lions one helluva surprise that morning. Keep telling us your Londolozi bush stories, we love reading them. A big hello from St Emilion, hope all is well with you and the Londolozi gang.

Werner Breedt
Guest

Thanks for the comments everyone! I understand why the thought of a crocodile conjures up fear! However, like everyone said, they are an integral part of the ecosystem and are extremely effective and efficient. Just the thought of being close to water scares most already, imagine having to drink water on a daily basis knowing that a crocodile might be skulking around a couple of feet away….

Jill Larone
Guest

Very frightening Werner, no wonder the Lions and Leopaeds prefer the rain puddles! How do the crocodiles manage when the water levels drop so low, as they are now?

Werner Breedt
Guest

These animals are so hardy Jill! Another reason they are so successful! As the water levels drop the crocodiles tend to congregate in the larger and deeper water bodies, where they prefer to inhabit the shallower waters at the pool edges. If no water is available they have been documeneted moving into muddy holes and staying there for extended periods of time until rains fall. They can then shut down their metabolism and could go without food for almost two years

Richard
Guest

Incredible encounter. A male lion is as equally capable of killing a large crocodile caught on land away from water though I am sure. Both are apex predators in their two separate environments

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