A Savute Story about the Lion and the Elephant

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As a wildlife enthusiast and photographer, I firstly have to give you some background information about Savute in the south of the Chobe reserve, Botswana. It is a harsh environment, that for many years was plagued by great drought. Lions do not migrate so those that lived here had to rely on the only foods source available, the elephants that were traveling through the area from the south to the north and vice versa. Soon some lion prides started working together and became massive prides of 30+ animals so as to have more ”lion”-power and be able take down even big elephants. The many years and generations of preying on these elephants became built into their genes.

Filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert made a tough but beautiful movie about these prides called “Ultimate Enemies: Elephants and Lions”. For some this is not an easy movie to watch – for the “loving the cubs” safari go-er. Actually this film was the reason I went to Botswana for the first time. But it took me 8 years to eventually meet these lions as I was to short of time in the area and not lucky on my big cat sightings.

As some of you know for the past two or three years water has been flowing into the Savute channel again and all kinds of animals have returned to the marsh. Buffalo, zebra, wildebeest, tssessebe etc. Even Pelicans are visiting and fishing again. For the lions there is now plenty of food and the large pride has split up into splinter prides. These are dominated by a consortium of several big males that spend most of the time mating with the smaller female lion groups scattered over the marsh.

Because they were so used to killing elephants and doing so at every opportunity due to the scarcity of food, the lions seem unable to resist killing more than they need, scared of not having enough. Preying on elephants has become a habit. Thousands of elephants pass the Savute marsh yearly all exhausted and thirsty from their long journey and also in quite a hurry as they sense the danger. So if you visit, do not be surprised if you see more than one elephant carcass lying in the marsh without being eaten. They probably died of exhaustion or were just killed by lions as it’s their instinct given to them from their environment in the past.

These photos were taken during my November 2012 trip into that area. One hungry young male lion discovered a whole elephant carcass and found himself in a new situation watching thirsty elephants hurrying by. Hesitant and a little bit scared that the elephants would attack him, he left the carcass behind him for a moment with the arrival of the first ellie who was acting a bit aggressively. After that the lion returned to his meal, suspiciously watching a parade of elephants walking by. Calm soon returned and he continued with his eating.
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This is the everyday harsh reality of the African bush especially seen in the wilder places like Savute. This place must be kept wild as it shows the pure interaction between species that have still not been totally intervened by humans.

I hope you found my story interesting. If you would like to see more of my wildlife pictures from Africa, visit and like my Facebook page or my website (currently being reconstructed) www.fredvonwinckelmannphotos.com.

Thank you Fred for sharing this story and the photographs with us! It must have been quite an experience to see the harsh reality of the Savute.

If you have stories you’d like to share, email us mystory@aboutthebush.com and we’ll feature them on our page and social media sites.

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