A helpless calf found itself at the centre of a dramatic stand-off between its herd and a pair of hungry lionesses.
This stunning series of photographs, taken in the Ruaha National Park in Tanzania, captures the moment the herd of elephants desperately tried to protect their calf.
Two herds of elephants had been drinking from the water, when the baby elephant appeared to become separated from the rest of the group as it tried to cross the Mwagusi River.
But two keen-eyed lionesses were quickly on the hunt, drawing ever closer to the terrified calf.
After making their first attack, the lions injured the calf. But the adult elephants heard is cries of distress and came rushing to the rescue. Although they tried desperately to help the calf to safety, the baby was too badly injured and couldn’t walk. After a tense war of wills between the two groups of animals, the lions eventually claimed victory and brought down the exhausted calf.
Tour operator Paul Tickner captured the dramatic scene on September 18.
The 30-year-old said: ‘There were two and then three lions on top of the elephant trying to bring her down. Very quickly the elephant collapsed, seemingly from exhaustion, it looked like it was all over, but I knew the elephant was still alive. The lions were anxious and kept looking around nervously as the calf screamed in alarm. They had done this before and knew the noise could attract elephants nearby.
Lions have been known to work together to kill fully-sized adult elephants but sightings of the kills are uncommon. Mother elephants are known to be extremely protective of their young, but it is thought the baby calf’s parent was too far away to help.
However, a female member of the herd did try to help the young elephant – but to no avail.
Paul, who was born in Reading, UK, said: ‘Soon enough, a small group of females did come to the calves aid, chasing the lions off. Heartbreakingly the adult female did all she could to bring the calf to its feet. In frustration and fear the adult elephant turned away as the calf appeared forlorn.
Agonisingly the lions, now in full terrifying hunt mode, approached the calf again. The calf screamed out in desperation, the adult female spun around on her heels and again chased the lions off, who this time made a hasty retreat in respect of the elephants’ awesome size.
Through a combination of panic, disorientation and injuries to its legs, the calf could not get back to its feet. Fatally for the calf, its mother had already moved off out of earshot. Sensing the hopelessness of the situation the adult elephant finally left and the calf suffered its fate.
If it had been the mother it would never have left so quickly, such is the bond between mother elephants and their young.