Now that April 1st is behind us (yes it was fake news; no male leopard would adopt a lion cub!) we can get back to what’s really happening in the bush.
Rhinos and lions. What happens when they meet?
Well, it’s almost comical to see the placid disdain with which the behemoths of the bush push lions out of their way.
Rhinos have such thick skin, literally, that they have very little to fear from the tawny cats. Ironically the Ntesvu pride were found on a young white rhino carcass a couple of days ago (a young male that had been gored by another rhino; probably a dominant bull. More on this later), but in the video below, the Ntsevu Pride and their cubs didn’t stand a chance:
Ranger Sean Zeederberg and his guests were the witnesses to this incident, in which the myopic curiosity of the pachyderms drew them ever closer to the pride, the females of which clearly making the decision that discretion was the better part of valour. You can see the rhinos sniffing their way along, slowly approaching on the scent trail of the pride. Rhinos have terrible eyesight, relying far more on their hearing and smell than their vision. Eyesight is almost unnecessary for them, as they have virtually no natural predators and their food can be found right in front of them. Yet despite not really having anything to fear from Africa’s apex predator, they still recognize them as a potential threat, and will often instinctively give lions a gentle reminder that their presence is not welcome
In some parts of Africa, elephants form a large part of the diet of the local lion population. The Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe in particular is renowned for its big lions prides taking down young bulls recently split from their herds, and up to 20% of the lions’ food intake is reported to be elephant meat. I don’t have the exact stat. with me, but I suspect that it’s based on volume more than anything, i.e. it would be more a case of one elephant providing so much meat that the carcass will feed the lions for days, and being equivalent to 30 impalas, rather than 1 kill out of 5 being an elephant.
Yet there aren’t many places that I’m aware of where rhino-lion conflict occurs regularly. Note that I said that I’m aware of. There may well be, but I think that the fact that rhino numbers are down all over Africa may account for it to some extent.
Yet lions do take rhinos down. I can think of three incidents off the top of my head in which it has happened in the Sabi Sand Reserve in the last few years. The Tsalala young male from a few years ago was found on a rhino kill to the South of Londolozi, I think with some Sparta males that he had joined forces with. The Mhangeni pride took down a Black Rhino on Singita about five years ago (and that was sad as we hardly ever see Black rhinos here), and now the Ntsevu pride have been found on a young white rhino. It does happen, but incidents are rare, especially here, where so much other game is plentiful and far easier for lions to catch.
I think what we can take away from Sean’s video above is the knowledge that lions prevailing over rhinos is the exception rather than the rule. Many, many times I have seen the big grey beasts lumbering in and seen the lions retreating. Not once have I seen a reversal. Occasionally one might see young lions harassing a rhino calf, but the calves usually stick so close to their mothers that the lions don’t really stand a chance.
Occasionally the so-called king of beasts have their day, but more often than not, they simply collect their hurt dignity and shuffle off…