Recently we have been reporting extensively on how the lions of Londolozi are on a high, enjoying the plethora of weakened buffalo and other prey scattering the land. Being the most dominant predator in these parts they tend to not have too much to worry about in terms of competition but as is so often the case in the bush you can just never guarantee when the tables will turn. Recently we bared witness to what can happen to the ‘king of the jungle’ when they find themselves outnumbered, in this case by a huge clan of hyenas.

Tracker Sersant and I were walking in a dry river bed, following tracks of a female leopard that had killed something and dragged it to a tree. We found the hoisted duiker kill but there was no leopard in sight and so we were scouting out the area to attempt to find where she had gone. This was incredibly fortuitous because while we were walking we were not distracted by the sound of the vehicle and as we quietly moved on foot we heard the distant and very distinctive chattering of hyenas. Hyenas make a wide variety of sounds which differ depending on whether they’ve got food, if they’re contacting calling to each other, if they’re in distress or if they’re marking territory. The noise that we heard was the unmistakable, excitable sound of heckling and from what we could hear there were a lot of them!

We rushed back to the vehicle and headed in the direction of the commotion, deciphering that it was coming from close to a hyena den site we were familiar with. When we got there the scene we were met with was sheer chaos. A single lioness was surrounded by over twenty hyenas who were circling and intimidating her. At first she crouched low to the ground, growling and readying herself, making sure hyenas didn’t circle round to the back of her where she couldn’t defend herself. It was incredibly intense and we all sat with baited breath because we knew just how dire her situation was. Should some of the hyenas manage to grab hold of her, there was no way she would have been able to fend off the entire clan. It took a while for the hyenas to build up the courage but once one of them had rushed in and bitten her on the rump the others descended.

They would avoid attacking her from the front because of the power of her jaws and paws but the sheer number of them meant that some could distract her from the front while the others tried to attack from the back. On a few occasions they managed to get a hold of her but luckily she was able to keep swivelling, fending off the most imminent threat. At one point the lioness even managed to grab hold of one of the hyenas and hold it down for a few moments before she was forced to release it to defend herself again.

Eventually she managed to break from the circling hyenas and was chased through the clearing. Hyenas, although slower than lions have incredible stamina and it looked like they were going to catch her as she retreated. Fortunately, she found a tree that she managed to scale and although typically large and clumsy in trees, she was able to get out of the biting range of the hyenas and into safety.

The hyenas circled the base of the tree for a while, eventually becoming bored and moving off. What was incredible was that the sound of the commotion also drew in two other lionesses. As they came running in, the treed lioness leapt from her hiding place and began to run from the new arrivals. We were startled at first, assuming that they were from different prides and commented on just how unlucky this lionesses’ morning had been. After trailing the heckled lioness for about a kilometre the pursuing lions began to roar, which caused the single lioness to stop, slowly turn and head back towards her pursuers. Before we knew it and rather perplexingly they were soon head butting and greeting each other affectionately. What we assume is that the lioness who had been treed was in such a state of stress that she had not even recognised her own sisters in the moment and had thus retreated, only relaxing when she recognised the familiar sound of their roars.

Luckily she escaped with just one surface gash to her side and a cut on her lip, apparently completely unscathed other than that. As Heinrich Van Den Berg so adeptly states “royalty runs the risk of losing not only perspective while sitting on a throne. Many a life and tail have been sacrificed for the sensation of authority”. It’s a reminder that sometimes even the most dominant predators and those at the top of the food chain can find themselves as the underdog and in this particular situation, we were grateful that the underdog got away unscathed.

Filed under Lions Wildlife

About the Author

Amy Attenborough

Media Team

Amy has a rich field-guiding history, having spent time at both Phinda and Ngala Game Reserves. This diversity of past guiding locations brought her an intimate understanding of different biomes across South Africa, and she immediately began making a name for herself as ...

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on Lioness Survives Attack From Clan of Hyenas

Join the conversationJoin the conversation


Was she a mhangeni lioness ?

Amy Attenborough

Hi Sasha. Yes, she was a Mhangeni breakaway lioness..

Kim Sams

Fabulous footage!

Ginger Brucker


Gillian Evans

Phew! She’s survived to fight another day!

Jill Larone

I’m relieved she managed to get away without serious injury! Thanks for the post and amazing picture and video Amy!

Barbara Weyand

I have enjoyed every one of the Londolozi posts, and look forward to re-experiencing my wonderful stay through your posts.

Jonathan banks

Where were your dominant Males during all this commotion? I have heard a single Male Lion can fend off 25/30 Hyenas.

Amy Attenborough

Hi Jonathan. The coalition were separate from each other at this point. One was with a lioness close to the river and the other was in the vicinity. With all the commotion, he did come into the area to investigate but only got there once the hyenas had moved off and the lioness had descended the tree. Had he been there, the hyenas would have been far more wary!


Awesome shot of the lioness and the hyenas! Very pleased she escaped. BTW, what were the camera settings?

MJ Bradley

Wow! my heart was pounding watching the video, I can’t imagine what your hearts were doing watching this in person.. so glad the Mhangeni lioness made good her escape. Thank you for sharing!

Tim Musumba

What did the Hyenas want from her?!Was it a kill that she had and they tried to wrestle it away from the lioness?

Amy Attenborough

Hi Tim. No she didn’t have a kill but lions and hyenas are long-standing enemies. They compete for similar resources, are a threat to each other’s young and are stacked close to one another on the predator hierarchy. Thus as a result if hyenas have the opportunity to attack a lion they will and vice versa. This lioness was separated from her pride for some reason and when she stumbled across this group of hyenas she found herself outnumbered and they took advantage of this. I hope that helps! Thanks Amy

Krishna Gailey

Amy thank you for your excellent story and video of the Mhangeni lioness, so pleased she escaped relatively unscathed from those hyenas. Never a dull day at Londolozi.


Now that was intense!!! I look forward to your daily blog post. Thank you for sharing.

Linda Polley

Amy, How do the lion prides and leopards get their names?

Vicky Sanders

That’s a complicated story! This may help a little

Mike D

That was some incredible footage of an amazing age old rivalry. I wish there was more footage. She was heavily outnumbered and could have been seriously hurt or killed. Too bad her pride mates and the male did not get there sooner or the altercation could have turned out much differently. Amazing rivalry between these super predators. Great footage. I’m curious if this pride and clan have had other documented battles and if these altercations are common.

Bruce Robertson

Great read Amy – thanks so much, you lucky thing! Hope you well, Bruce

Marinda Drake

Lucky escape. Incredible sighting.

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