How Animals Fight Back
Botswana Wildlife Guide

© Buffalo face off Lionesses at Duba Plains
Inter-species dominance is more apt in predators where food has to be hunted. Lions are generally on top of the predator chain although in some areas hyenas have taken over the top spot. Cheetahs are at the bottom of the chain with small predators such as Jackal stealing kills from them.

By Leigh Kemp

With herbivores the inter-species dominance comes into play when food is scarce. The larger animals like the Elephant will have the upper hand due to their size. I have observed the interaction between Elephant and Rhino at a waterhole where the elephant attempted to chase the Rhino off but the Rhino would not budge.

After many attempts at mock charges the Elephant eventually sucked a trunk-full of water and sprayed it at the Rhino in frustration. The Rhino did not move and the Elephant gave up.

Giraffe and wildebeest fighting back

I once observed a Giraffe standing in the way of an Elephant and not giving way. They were both feeding in the same clump of bushes when the Elephant approached the Giraffe. The Giraffe did not move, instead it stared the Elephant down for some minutes before the Elephant eventually moved off in another direction. Whether this was a chance incident cannot be determined.

One morning in the Okavango I observed a Wildebeest staring down a Buffalo that was approaching the water. It was a wide floodplain but the Buffalo insisted on heading directly toward the Wildebeest which in turn stood its ground.

They stood staring each other down for over an hour before the Wildebeest lay down at the edge of the water. The Buffalo followed suit. They lay facing each other for another half an hour before a herd of impala running out of the trees startled them and both got up and ran off.

Warthog and hyena

I have seen amazing interactions between Hyenas and Warthogs. It is a known fact that Hyenas prey a great deal on Warthogs. I have watched Hyenas rip the face off a Warthog that had sped down a very shallow burrow. It could not get far enough down the hole and the Hyenas proceeded to eat the parts they could reach.

The blood was spurting and frothing from the face of the Warthog but it did not give up. Eventually the Hyenas moved off. During the night the Warthog died from blood loss. I have also observed on numerous occasions where warthogs have chased off Hyenas.

Warthogs seem to have the least 'fear' when it comes to predators. They are of the few animals that will move directly to a waterhole to drink without first looking around. Most species will take their time, making sure that it is safe for them before proceeding.Warthogs are known to face predators head-on. Lions will seldom attack a warthog that is facing it. I observed a Lioness chasing a Warthog across the Chobe River floodplain and when the Lioness was within touching distance the Warthog turned and faced her. She stopped, turned and walked away. The Warthog trotted off in the opposite direction.

Wild Dogs and Hippos

At Xakanaka in the Moremi Game Reserve Wild Dogs had chased an impala through a herd of Buffalo, killing it about 30m from the herd. The Buffalo then moved closer to watch what was happening. They stood watching until the dogs finished and moved on.

October 9: '..... the Buffalo were stamping their feet at the dogs as they ripped at the carcass. One Buffalo would take a few steps forward but a few dogs would move towards him and it would back away. It was not long before the carcass was clean and the dogs began to play as the Buffalo moved off. Some Vultures began to fly in.

The dogs all suddenly stopped for a moment before the adults ran towards the long grass but before they reached the grass a Hyena ran off. The dogs relaxed but kept a weary vigil. After much licking and playing the dogs began to move off at intervals. When the last dog had left the Vultures moved in followed closely by the Hyena'.

There are many stories of Hippo chasing off predators in the act of a kill. Wild dogs killed a Puku on the edge of the Chobe River. Whilst the dogs were eating a Hippo charged out the water at them and the dogs moved off. The Hippo returned to the water and the dogs approached the carcass. The Hippo charged again.

This went on for a while until the dogs moved off a distance and lay down. Not long after one of the dogs seemed to play a game with the Hippo - the dog would move to the carcass and the Hippo would charge - the dog would move away until the Hippo moved back to the water and would then move back to the carcass. This continued until the dogs moved away from the area.


Dominance ensures survival and in the wilderness there is a constant battle to overcome. A story goes that the bushman of yesteryear were seldom the victim of a Lion attack as they established dominance over the territorial male in an unusual way.

Whenever a new male took over a territory the bushman would creep up on it, usually while it slept, and beat it into submission. The male would then know that humans were dominant over them and avoid them at all costs.

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