Wildlife

Hippo and lion interaction on the Chobe River

I was on the Chobe River, leading a photographic safari for Pangolin Photo Safaris  when we came across a lioness with her young cubs, feeding on a very young elephant that had died a few days previously, alongside the river.  Elephants that die are an important source of food for carnivores like these lions.

 

The lioness and cubs watch with interest.  Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f4, iso 1600. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

The lioness and cubs with the dead elephant. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f4, iso 1600. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

 

We were watching the lions from a distance when we noticed an almost submerged hippopotamus moving steadily toward them.  My first thought was that the hippo would get to the edge of the river bank, and perhaps stare at the lions.  There is no love lost between those two species.

However, the hippo kept coming, right into the shallow water, emerging directly opposite the elephant carcass.  At this point the lion cubs noticed it, and immediately they each grabbed a bone or morsel of meat, and they scampered away into the fringing belt of Kalahari star-apple bushes.

 

The cubs leave the scene. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f4.5, iso 1600. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

The cubs leave the scene. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f4.5, iso 1600. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

 

The lioness remained where she was, lying flat, on the other side of the carcass.  The hippo walked slowly but steadily closer, water dripping off its skin.  It was a medium-sized hippo, which still equates to a pretty big animal.  It sidled up to the elephant and began to feed.  My mammal reference book, Smithers, lists the hippo as an omnivore.  There are also many records of hippo feeding on carcasses, although I had never seen it happen before.

It was clear that the hippo was uncomfortable putting its head down to feed, and exposing itself, with the lioness so close by.  Now the hippo lifted it’s head, opened its jaws wide open in a threat display, and began to shuffle slowly toward the lioness.  The big cat remained crouched down, with ears flattened now in a warning pose.

 

The hippo makes a serious threat. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f4.5, iso 1600. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF f500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

The hippo makes a serious threat. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f4.5, iso 1600. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF f500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

 

The hippo kept moving closer, and eventually the lioness broke and ran off into the thickets where her cubs where.  The hippo waited a while to make sure she wasn’t coming back, and again began to feed.

 

The hippo feeding. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f5, iso 1250. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

The hippo feeding. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f5, iso 1250. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

 

Hippo’s teeth and mouth are not really structured for eating anything other than grass, so for them to feed on a carcass is somewhat awkward.  The hippo would nudge, lick and scrape the carcass with its mouth half-open.  After perhaps fifteen minutes, the lioness returned, taking up a position just a little  further away this time, but facing the hippo’s rear end.  We could see she was showing her own intent, even if it was not overtly aggressive.

 

The lioness returns, waiting. Shutter speed 1/1000 sec at f4, iso 800. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view.

The lioness returns, waiting. Shutter speed 1/1000 sec at f4, iso 800. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view.

 

It wasn’t long before the hippo had enough, and slowly made it’s way back to the water, giving threatening jaw-gaping threat displays in all directions.

 

The hippo returns to the water. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f4.5, iso 800.  Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

The hippo returns to the water. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f4.5, iso 800. Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Click for larger view

 

Later that afternoon, we found the lion cubs and their mother again, feeding contentedly on the carcass and happily enjoying the lack of disturbance.

I shot this entire interaction with my Canon 5Dmk3 and EF 500L F4 IS lens.

About the Author:

I am a guide and a photographer, with a deep interest in all things to do with nature. I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but travel often to wild places whilst leading photographic safaris, and enjoying the outdoors.

12 Responses to “Hippo and lion interaction on the Chobe River”

  1. Nancy Lewis Says: July 11, 2014 at 8:45 am

    Nice series of images. I can imagine what fun you had watching this play out.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 12, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks Nancy, it is always fun to watch interaction 🙂
      cheers
      Grant

  2. Kate Bogart Says: July 11, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Fascinating! Thank you so much for sharing this, Grant. Your pictures, as always, are wonderful.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 12, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Thanks Kate
      🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  3. Anita Baert Says: July 11, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    What a fantastic sighting and as always magic images!!!

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      Thanks Anita
      Appreciate your time and comment 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  4. Devendra Kumar S Says: July 11, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    Dear Grant Atkinson I must congratulate you on a wonderful and captivating record of animal behavior. Nature is full of Mysteries and you get to witness it when you least expect it. You are very Good Story-Teller. You are Blessed to watch this Mystery unravel before you.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 12, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      Hi Devendra
      Thanks so much for your kind works, and I am aware of how fortunate I am to get to spend so much time in these special wild places.
      Cheers
      Grant

  5. Dikeledi robson Says: July 12, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Wow!beautiful sighting and pictures,i saw the lioness by the eli carcass but missed your sighting,its beautiful

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 12, 2014 at 3:00 pm

      Thanks Dikeledi, for your comment
      I think that the lions were there for several days…the hippo was just there for a short while one of the mornings 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  6. Lucy Vengrow Says: July 14, 2014 at 4:24 am

    Hi Grant– you never fail to deliver! Fascinating pics–well done. My best to you and Helena.

    Lucy Vengrow

  7. Morkel Erasmus Says: July 24, 2014 at 7:35 am

    Fabulous sighting and moment of natural history, Grant. I saw some riverside perspectives of this from the Ichobezi guys, and wished I could have been at this sighting.

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