A recent clip of a baby hippo's daring defence against a wandering lion highlights the challenges facing South Africa's wildlife as a drought continues to plague the country's largest national park. 

The clip, uploaded this week to Latest Sightings, shows a juvenile hippo defending its mother after she collapsed near a watering hole in the Kruger National Park.  

While we tend to think of lions as kings of the savannah – and they are capable of taking down even the largest of prey – a lion-on-hippo attack is relatively rare. 

"Lions will not want to put themselves at significant risk of injury in taking on large mammals which can very easily injure them," Mike Watson, CEO of Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, told National Geographic. "In my experience, lions are known to go for easiest targets – and hippo, elephant and [adult] giraffe certainly do not fall into this category."

The most likely explanation here is that the fallen hippo was a tempting a meal for the lone male, but as you can see, even a counter-attack from the youngster was enough to make the lion retreat.

Whether the large female was injured or ill is not clear, but local reports say some 300 hippos have already died during the drought. It's not a direct lack of water that's to blame, but rather a decline in vegetation. Without enough rain, grazers are left competing for food at an unsustainable rate. 

Sadly, the video indicates that both the mother hippo and the calf died from starvation just days after the footage was captured. 

Wildlife officials are now culling animals in an attempt to mitigate damage, and controversial as this may be, local ecologists feel it is the best option for the ecosystem as a whole. 

There are some 8,000 hippos in the park, explains South African National Parks spokesperson William Mabasa. And with each hippo consuming an average of 88 pounds (40 kilograms) of food each day, we would expect to see these animals dying off in the coming weeks – with or without a cull. This way, meat can be collected fresh and distributed to local NGOs and local settlements. 

The hope is that this distribution of resources will not only allow the remaining hippo population to thrive, but also prevent local communities from turning to bushmeat poaching. 

"We are still going to see some mortality of animals that are much weaker and that are sickly," adds staffer Desmond Andrews. "But those who are still strong and are able to move to food reserves and back to the water sources are going to survive."


Top header image: Erlend Aasland, Flickr