Graeme Mitchley and his wife were visiting Kruger National Park in South Africa when they noticed a lion that had something in its mouth. Upon closer inspection, they realized it was a baby antelope, which was most likely a snack for the big cat. However, the way the predator treated its prey left the onlookers shocked.
While lions have been considered king of the jungle for many years, their reign over the rest of nature is no longer as firm as it once was. In recent years, the ultimate predator has found itself prey to different threats, meaning that they are no longer as prevalent as they once were.
A human-wildlife conflict, combined with other factors including habitat loss and hunting, has contributed to a 43 percent decrease in African lion populations in the past 21 years alone. Consequently, conservationists now consider them to be a vulnerable species.
With that in mind, any sighting of a lion in the wild is a special one, as Mitchley knows all too well. In 2016 the South African school principal visited Kruger National Park in the country alongside his wife. And it was then that the couple got to witness many wild cats in their natural habitat.
Often the couple would wait by a watering hole, which many animals flocked to on account of a drought. However, when they came to quench their thirst, they made themselves easy targets for the lions that were waiting to pounce.
One day though, Mitchley and his wife arrived at the watering hole to find it deserted. “There wasn’t an animal in sight, never mind any lions,” he revealed on YouTube in 2017. “I commented to my wife that I would love to know where they had all got to.”
However, it appeared that Mitchley had spoken too soon. Because moments later, a lion appeared from what seemed like nowhere. It looked like a female, and what’s more, it appeared to be carrying something in its mouth.
As the lion got nearer, Mitchley presumed she was simply carrying her cub. However, upon closer inspection, he realized the situation was much more sinister than that. The big cat was in fact a young male, and clamped between its teeth was a tiny baby antelope.
The helpless creature was practically newborn, but it seemed that its short life was about to come to a gruesome end. All Mitchley and his wife could do now was look on as the circle of life played out before them.
Given the rarity of what he was witnessing first hand, Mitchley took the opportunity to take some footage of the lion and the antelope. In his video, the hungry cat lays on the ground with the baby, licking and nibbling at its rear end as the helpless animal bleats out in fear.
As if to prolong the poor creature’s agony, the lion then begins licking at the antelope’s head and body, seemingly grooming it. At this point, Mitchley urges the lion to put his prey out of its misery, begging him to simply “kill it.”
However, it appears the young lion’s fun isn’t finished just yet. In another scene from Mitchey’s video, the big cat can be seen following the little antelope as they tread across the savannah. But before the baby has chance to attempt an escape, the lion treads on his back legs, sending it tumbling to the ground.
The lion then attempts to pick the baby up using his mouth, but the antelope screams in terror, leading its predator to drop it. The creature then makes a run for it, but doesn’t get far before the lion knocks it down once more.
The harrowing scenes continue in much the same fashion, until the lion eventually picks the antelope up by the neck and carries it away. Watching with bated breath, Mitchley says, “I just wish it would put it out of its misery, man.”
As the lion slips off with the antelope firmly between it jaws, the little baby lets out a few final bleats of desperation. At that point, Mitchley’s footage comes to an end. However, he provided some further details in the video caption.
Giving a heartbreaking description, Mitchley explained, “The young lion carried the antelope down into the dry riverbed where we lost visual.” However, while the animals were out of sight they were not out of earshot. “We could still hear the antelope bleating,” Mitchley added.
He continued, “While the sighting was being played out, adrenaline was flowing! But watching the video, I could hear the little buck bleating, which wasn’t nice at all. My wife was almost in tears and given a chance she would have rescued the poor thing.”
Theorizing on how the big cat managed to bag the young antelope, Mitchley added, “I think this was pure opportunism on the part of the lion as he must have stumbled upon the newborn whilst walking through the bush. I am not sure what happened to its mom but she may have been grazing and wandered a bit too far off from her youngster.”
There’s no way of knowing what exactly happened to the baby antelope once Mitchley’s camera stopped rolling. However, it’s likely it provided the hungry lion with some much needed sustenance. Unfortunately, that’s just the cruel nature of life in the bush – one creature must die for another to live.
Despite the upsetting scenes they witness that day, Mitchley and his wife have no intention of putting their wildlife-watching days behind them. “We visit the Kruger often but this was a rare sighting for both of us,” the principal explained. “That’s why the Kruger National Park is the best place on Earth, you never know what lies in wait around the following bend!”