The safari group watched as the crocodile spied its prey: two tasty lions crossing the river. Without hesitation and seemingly driven by hunger, the croc glided through the water towards the big cats. But as the reptile sprang its ambush, it became clear that it had bitten off more than it could chew.
A predator has to be efficient, powerful and deadly to survive in the African wilderness. Some hunters, like the spotted hyena, have jaws powerful enough to break bones into small, edible fragments. Others have specialized hunting techniques; the jaguar, for instance, bites clean through the skull of its prey and into the brain.
Perhaps the most well-known African predator, though, is the lion. Considering the animals rank among the continents’s apex predators, it’s not surprising that lions have earned the name “kings of the jungle”. Their hunting style is slick, silent and devastatingly effective.
Although lions don’t have the stamina for prolonged hunts, they rarely need it. You see, once the animals are in range of their prey, they quickly charge in and pounce. Next they lock their powerful jaws around the target’s throat or face, strangling or suffocating it in the process.
In addition, lions will also do away with other predators during battles over food or territory. But despite their lofty position in the food chain, the great cats aren’t untouchable. In fact, one or two equally dangerous species compete for their place, including a survivor from primordial times.
The aggressive Nile crocodile is another of Africa’s top hunters. In some cases, the reptiles can reach in excess of 20 feet in length and weigh as much as an off-road vehicle. Furthermore, the crocs’ vital organs are protected by tough, armor-like skin, and they have the strongest known bite force in the animal kingdom.
Like lions, Nile crocodiles are ambush predators; however, they prefer to attack from the cover of water. Unfortunate animals that have stopped by an African waterway for a drink or a cooling dip may suddenly find themselves clamped in a pair of death-bringing croc jaws. The hapless creatures are then either drowned or torn apart by the flailing reptile.
So with the lion and the crocodile both as deadly as each other in their own individual ways, what happens when they clash? Well, some witnesses on safari in 2017 might have the answer to that. One of the vacationers recorded a meeting between Africa’s two prime predators and uploaded it to YouTube on May 5, 2017. They set the scene in the video’s description.
Uploader Safari wrote, “We were at Wilderness Safaris’ Kings Pool camp in Botswana with our amazing guide ND tracking two young male lions we had seen in the area the day before. We found them by the Linyanti river between Botswana and Namibia.” The lions had stopped by the watercourse for a drink.
The footage shows how the younger of the two lions tentatively decides to cross the river. His older brother follows, but the panning camera reveals something the lions can’t see. In the distance, a dark shape floats quietly through the water towards them.
At first glance the object looks like a log, but it’s clearly moving with purpose down the river. Rather than an inanimate lump of wood, it’s actually a hungry Nile crocodile, and the lions are in its hunting grounds. The stunned tourists can do nothing but watch as the croc quickly homes in on the lion brothers.
The younger brother was leading the attempted river crossing, and he’s also the closest to the advancing croc. When the two predators collide, the reptile’s jaws appear to snap shut with lighting speed on its prey. The water churns, and the lion disappears from sight.
For a few heart-stopping milliseconds the water’s still, but then a splashing lion reappears on the surface. How it’s still struggling against its aquatic attacker isn’t clear; somehow, though, it seems to be resisting the croc’s jaws. And there’s also something else the Nile crocodile didn’t take into account.
Lions don’t always hunt alone, and this one was with his older brother. As lion junior thrashes against his reptilian adversary, big brother heads straight towards the prehistoric predator. And when he reaches the commotion, the older lion doesn’t hesitate to dive to his sibling’s aid.
A flurry of movements – those of the eldest lion and the crocodile – takes place in the water. Despite the battle finishing in just a few seconds, it’s not immediately obvious who the winner is. Then lion junior’s head pops up above the water.
He starts swimming back the way he came, in the direction of the far bank. Meanwhile, a darker shape pulls itself out of the water to slink off into the reeds. But was it the Nile crocodile – or the older lion?
At first, there doesn’t seem to be a consenus among the witnesses as to whether lion senior survived the encounter. Some hushed debate is audible while the camera shows the younger lion swimming back to shore. But the video’s description elaborates on events and explains what happened in the aftermath of the extraordinary encounter.
“The younger one started swimming back, and we thought the older one was gone,” Safari wrote. “But then we saw him pull himself into the reeds; incredibly they both survived with no injuries.” Although both lions apparently got away, then, they were separated by the crocodile-inhabited river.
“The older brother was stuck on the Namibian side of the river for the rest of the day,” Safari revealed, before filling in the blanks concerning the lion’s sibling. It turned out that the younger of the pair waited patiently for his big brother – and while doing so, struck it lucky. Yes, the canny cat found himself a mate! But rather than being jealous, the senior lion seemed perfectly happy for him.
“The older brother came back later in the day,” Safari continued. “Instead of challenging his younger brother for the lioness as would be expected, he waited nearby. An amazing wilderness experience we were privileged to observe and an incredible older brother.”