Killing for Fun
Botswana Wildlife Guide

Botswana Wildlife Journal Entry, 1997 - By Leigh Kemp

The lioness got up from the elephant carcass and walked towards the waterhole. She was soon followed by two others. As the first lioness reached the water she charged a flock of turtle doves The other two lionesses ran at their companion and a game ensued that lasted for a few seconds.

Stuffed on elephant meat the game soon became too much effort. The dove-killer plucked at the feathers before eating the bird. She then had a drink and slowly walked back to the elephant carcass where she lay down to rest.

Reflections on the dove-killer

I reflected on the above-mentioned incident for a number of days. 'Why had the lioness killed and eaten the dove after having fed on an elephant carcass?' 'What made her then return to the elephant carcass after eating the dove?'

Although lions have been known to eat a variety of species in times of hardship it was obviously not through hunger that this lioness killed the dove. Lions have been observed feeding on termites and other insects, birds, rodents and rotting carrion but in most cases the behaviour was simply fuelled by hunger.

Questions answered

"Man is the only animal known to kill for fun." The phrase popped into my mind whenever the idea surfaced that perhaps the lioness had killed the dove for sport. I have often seen examples of lions killing just because prey happened to cross their paths; it seems man is not alone in his thirst for bloody fun.

On a few occasions, I have witnessed lions killing mongoose. In each of these observed incidents, I watched the members of the pride play with the carcass for some time before finally rejecting it; the uneaten carcass was then left to rot.

I watched the members of the pride play with the carcass for some time before finally rejecting it.

Obsessive killing disorder

A pride was feeding on a buffalo carcass in the Chobe region of Botswana when one of the lionesses moved off to the water to drink. As she approached the water, the lioness noticed a slow-moving buffalo cow lagging behind the herd , her new-born calf alongside her.

Without hesitation, the lioness ran at the buffalo calf and killed it. A few lions left the first carcass and attacked the mother, quickly bringing her down. The calf-killing lioness then walked back to the first carcass. After a few licks of the skin she settled down alongside the others.

Why had the lioness attacked the calf when it was already full from the original carcass? I observed the scene for over an hour. The lions had still not eaten any of the meat; both dead mother and child were left uneaten.

We do, because we can

Despite my strong feelings about trying to rationalize and explain nature, the dove and buffalo incidents intrigued me, almost demanding explanation. From gorging on the carcass of the world's largest land mammal to killing a harmless dove, the behaviour seemed completely obsessive. The only explanation I can propose is that sometimes lions kill, simply because they can.

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