Watch this Angry Elephant Stab a Buffalo to Death

Nov 2 2015

Ros Stansell and her party arrived at the intersection of the H1-6 and the S48 simply because there was a large herd of elephants. But they were unprepared for the scene that unfolded... They heard trumpeting and then 2 elephant cows with their calves charging a buffalo calf. Ros says, 'The one cow elephant knocked the buffalo to the ground. The two cows then reversed away, all the time facing the buffalo.  There was no sign of any other buffalo in the area. The buffalo remained crouched on the ground for a minute or two and then slowly got to its feet and took a few steps away from the elephants.  Then the elephants charged again! And the calf was killed!'

The elephants reversed away from the carcass of the calf and then rejoined the herd. Ros says, 'We were shocked and confused as to the motives of the elephant. We couldn't understand why a little buffalo calf presented a threat to their calves.  We didn't know if the calf was seeking protection or just looking for water.'

We chat to Marc Lindsay Rae, head of the specialist safari division at Africa Direct about the interaction seen in this footage.

TB: What are your initial thoughts on what we see unfold you?
MLR: This has to be some of the most interesting elephant/buffalo interactions I have ever seen. When I first watched this video, I was left amazed and asking myself the question we all want to know the answer to. “Why did the elephant kill the buffalo?”

Over the past 10 years of my guiding career I have witnessed a couple number of interesting interspecific animal interactions that I was able to use to draw some form of a conclusion.

On one particular game drive, I came across a sighting where an elephant bull had just killed a rhino at a small waterhole. There is a herbivore hierarchy when it comes to drinking at small waterholes. For instance, if an impala is drinking out of a small waterhole and a herd of zebra comes along, the impala being the smaller of the two animals gets “pushed off” so to speak. Now, if a the zebra are drinking and a rhino comes along and it wants to drink, the zebra get chased off. Common sense. In the case of the sighting I am referring to, a herd of elephant moved down to the waterhole and in the hot Kalahari sun, the rhino didn’t move when the elephant arrived and he stood his ground by the water’s edge. An elephant bull following the herd approached the rhino and stabbed it with its tusk once, and unfortunately it hit the rhino in the heart. As a result the rhino died close to the waterhole.

Was this an example of the same behaviour in this video? I thought about it for a short while and decided this is not the case. It is a young buffalo, on its own, and the waterhole this footage was captured at is big enough for different species to drink all at once.

I then remembered a sighting I had once in the Sabi Sands where the bulls in a buffalo herd were horning and tossing a baby buffalo around until it eventually died. The reason for that unique behaviour was the baby buffalo was caught by a pride of lions and the herd managed to get the youngster back. Unfortunately, the young buffalo had the scent of the lions all over it and some bulls didn’t take a liking to that lion scent in the herd. They became very curious with the youngster and quickly became aggressive. Lions mostly feed on buffalo in the Kruger National Park and therefore the scent of lion triggers an automatic defensive reaction. Hence the bulls in the herd attacked and killed the “lion smell”. It just so happened to be one of their own.

I think a very similar unique situation happened here. This is my opinion based on past experiences, so this is not fact. I think the buffalo was caught by a pride of lions and the herd managed to get the calf back. This happens fairly regularly with attempted buffalo kills. The young buffalo was probably injured and exhausted but managed to make it to the waterhole with the herd. Buffalo don’t take too long to drink at waterholes because they are vulnerable to predation. A quick drink and they move off again. Due to injury, exhaustion and possible dehydration from the sweltering heat Kruger National Park has experienced as of late, the young buffalo just couldn’t go any further.

As a result, the herd had no choice but to move off without the calf. Probably not too long after, the two elephant cows arrived with their calves (from what I have read) and there was this strong scent of lion in the air. Elephant get very defensive and aggressive when there are predators around and they will do whatever it takes to protect their herd, their youngsters and themselves. The elephant will either fight or flight. In this case, the elephant cow reacted in an offensive matter and ran and killed the buffalo. The calf as you can see in the video could barely stand up and therefore had no chance of getting away.

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