Amongst all the big cats, lions are perhaps the most capable hunters of large prey animals. Despite being lesser than tigers in size and strength, lions take down big prey more frequently than their striped counterparts in Asia. This is largely owing to their social system of living. Life in a pride has several advantages and lions are the only cats who have evolved into living in organized groups. As a result they are in a unique position to hunt species many times their size.
The first example that comes to mind is that of buffalo. The Cape Buffalo is considered by many to be amongst the most dangerous animals in the African bush and yet lions in many parts of Africa routinely prey upon these one-tonne animals. The modus operandi is to encircle the formidable herd and try and isolate vulnerable individuals. Next the big cats proceed to force their prey into an organized trap laid out for them. Each individual lioness plays a specific role in the hunt, often consistent throughout the animal's lifetime. Still it's never easy to bring down the buffalo and despite the help of male lions, it's still quite a risky undertaking for the predator. The islands of Okavango, Botswana bear witness to the perish of many a lions at the hoofs and horns of the formidable buffalo.
And this is not all. Lions in Etosha National Park in Namibia have been observed hunting black rhinos. There are reports of hippo kills from certain parts of Africa and even video recordings of lions actively hunting calves and adults of elephants in Savuti, north Botswana. What drives these great cats to hunt such mammoth creatures? Is it simply depletion of their natural prey in that locality, or is it something more sinister... for many believe that like the buffalo-killing lions of Duba Plains in Okavango, these Savuti Lions have become specialists at tackling their huge foes. Certainly a very interesting and disturbing trend, one that requires further study and understanding.
Borne out of necessity or desire - Macropredation is definitely an established trend in certain populations of African Lions. And it is already demonstrating biological effects. The lionesses in Duba are as big as the males. They swim to go after their prey - something that lions don't do very often. The buffaloes in response have evolved into a giant herd of over a thousand individuals - five times the normal herd size. Similarly tensions are high on the savannah in parts where lions go after elephants. What does it mean for the predator-prey relations in those ecosystems - while bigger game is hunted by the cats, smaller herbivores are relatively spared. What impact will that have on those grasslands and individual population groups of various species in the long run, remains to be seen. One thing is for sure - these titanic battles are not for the weak of heart...