In a one-on-one battle between a wild dog and a lioness, it’s probably safe to back the big cat. But when a lone lioness faces off against a 20-strong pack, the odds are not skewed in her favour.

(You're going to want to turn the sound on for this one.)

This remarkable footage was captured by Shalin Fernando on a recent safari in Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve. The video drops us right in the action: a lioness – encircled by a pack of wild dogs – swivels uncertainly as chittering canines push closer from all sides. She’s gravely outnumbered, and the cub tucked against her tawny flank would not stand a chance against the pack

Suddenly she locks in on a target and lunges, pulling one of the dogs to the ground and sending the rest of the pack dashing in to defend. The attack offers enough of a distraction for the cub to escape, as a cloud of dust engulfs the duelling predators.

And then, as if on cue, the dogs fall silent. They pull back and the lioness clambers to her feet. The respite is short-lived though as the chorus of chatter starts up again and the dogs once more surround the lioness. The attack is measured – the wild dogs seem aware that a lioness is no easy opponent. The show of bravado is more about seeing off a potential threat than actually engaging in an all-out fight.

Large carnivores are rarely friendly towards one another. Lions – Africa’s largest terrestrial predators – will readily kill rival meat-eaters like spotted hyenas, leopards, cheetahs – and even wild dogs. In this case, the lioness was outnumbered, but her show of strength was still enough to deter the excited dogs.

Although they will occasionally take on large prey like zebras or wildebeest, wild dogs primarily hunt small to mid-sized antelope. When it comes to competition for food, this dietary preference puts them more at odds with spotted hyenas than lions. Hyenas have been known to shadow wild dogs on the hunt in the hopes of chasing the pack off a kill and nabbing an easy meal.

They are often successful: the slight form of a wild dog hardly matches up to the bone-crushing burliness of an adult hyena. For the dogs to come out on top, they must play the numbers game. Wild dogs are exceptionally proficient pack hunters and their social coordination also comes in handy when rallying together to defend a carcass:

When lions and wild dogs clash, however, the results usually favour the felines. A dramatic series of photos captured in South Africa’s Sabi Sands Game Reserve in 2014 show just how dangerous an encounter with the big cats can be for wild dogs. The images show a pride of lions ambushing a pack of hunting dogs and killing the alpha male – a costly loss for these endangered canines.

To avoid potentially fatal clashes with lions, wild dogs in South Africa’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve actively stay away from areas where lions roam. Where dog and cat territories overlap, the canines adjust their daily schedule to avoid being out and about at the same time as the lions.

For the most part, wild dogs can't compete with the brute strength of lions, but there have been a handful of occasions when they have triumphed over their feline rivals. Such instances are rare and usually require specific circumstances: an injured or sick lion or a lone cat caught by a big pack. The lioness in Fernando’s video can perhaps count herself lucky that the dogs backed off.

In this case, the fight ended before it really began. Fernando caught up with the dogs again a day after the clash and noted that one of the pack members was limping as a result of a bite wound. Despite the odds, then, it seems the lioness still came out on top.

Top header image: Mathias Appel, Flickr