Most big cats are opportunistic hunters, but some are more ambitious than others.

Samuel Chevallier of ReWild Africa captured this dramatic footage near Somalisa Camp in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park recently. Chevallier and his group tracked down a lioness and her cubs basking in the early morning sunlight. "We watched for a while as the cubs were playing with one another and then the mother started getting active," Chevallier explained to Latest Sightings

She gathered her cubs and slinked into the undergrowth. Anticipating some action, Chevallier and co steered their vehicles in pursuit. Shortly after the lioness disappeared into a thicket, they heard the unmistakable trumpet of an elephant in distress. When they arrived on the scene, the ambitious cat was already on top of the elephant trying her best to bring down the sizeable prey.

Lions do not usually target Africa’s giants, but elephant calves can become vulnerable if they stray too far from the protection offered by the rest of their herd. “The lioness clawed into the thick skin of the elephant – hanging on while the elephant fought against the strong grip and pull of the lioness,” Chevallier explained. The calf eventually managed to shake the big cat loose and charged after its attacker to ensure that the lioness fled the scene.

“Whilst all of the action was happening, the cubs were laying in the tall grass looking on as their mother attempted to secure a meal, but, after an unsuccessful attack, the mother came to collect the cubs and headed away into the morning – luckily, unscathed from the encounter.”

Records of lions preying on elephants are rare in the scientific literature, so it’s unclear how often the big cats target super-sized meals. It is possible that when young elephant calves stray from their mother's side to explore and forage, some will fall victim to hungry predators. "Generally it's uncommon but it can happen often in some systems and circumstances," Dr Luke Hunter President and Chief Conservation Officer for global wild cat conservation organisation, Panthera explained to us regarding a similar cat-vs-calf incident.

It's also possible that the elephant may have been nursing an injury that triggered the lioness into attacking. “The young elephant seemed to be separate from the herd and also looked as if was injured before the attack,” Chevallier explained to us via email. “However, it is hard to confirm this as we only managed to catch up with the lioness once [it] was on top of the elephant.”

Yearling calves and elephants already injured by poaching or weakened by drought are at greater risk from prowling lions, but for the most part the behemoths are safe from attack. However, there is at least one pride on the floodplains of Botswana's Okavango Delta with a taste for elephant-sized meals.

The 30-strong Savuti lion pride (named after the marsh in which it reigns) is well known by wildlife photographers and filmmakers for one reason: these lions are expert elephant hunters. Anecdotal reports of elephant takedowns date back as far as the 1970s, but it's only in the last few decades that the latest generation of Savuti lions has earned a reputation for its unique hunting abilities. Filmmaker Dereck Joubert recorded 74 elephant kills by the famed pride between 1993 and 1996, and noticed that the lions’ pachyderm-preying skills seemed to be improving year on year.

Then, in 2006, a BBC crew filming with infrared cameras managed to capture the cats in action:

Hunting elephants is risky, and, under normal circumstances, lions would probably opt for more manageable prey. In the case of the Savuti elephant killers, an annual migration resulted in a reduction of their typical quarry. While many animals left the area, a healthy elephant population remained. So the cats learned to expand their hunting repertoire.

Back in 2012, one of the our film crews also managed to capture the Savuti pride doing what they are best known for (the footage is a bit grisly, so viewer discretion is advised):