Thievery is common among Africa’s carnivores. The commotion of a kill typically attracts a host of predators eager to get at the spoils – why hunt when you can steal? It’s usually the animals with the most brawn or the biggest numbers that claim possession over a contested carcass. Lions have no problem tucking into sloppy seconds (or even thirds) of another carnivore’s kill, as this footage shows:

Ranger and guide Brett Heasman captured the thrilling clip recently near the Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park. Alarm calls from vervet monkeys alerted Heasman to the presence of a predator and he followed the ruckus in search of some action.

Heasman came across a lone male cheetah standing guard over a fresh impala kill. "Looking a bit nervous, as cheetahs normally do before settling down to eat, the cheetah scanned the area for any possible scavengers that might interrupt his feast," the guide told Latest Sightings. "After a few scans of the area, he finally got going and started feasting on his hard-earned meal."

Cheetahs are particularly vulnerable to carcass burglary. These sleek cats are easily overpowered by stronger predators and unlike their burlier cousins, the leopards, they are unable to hoist their kills into the safety of the treetops. Instead, they must scoff down as much of their meal as they can before any opportunists move in (which usually doesn’t take very long).

The cheetah had hardly begun to feed when vultures swooped down in massive numbers. In an almost comical fashion, “each time the cheetah lowered its head to take a bite, the vultures inched in closer and closer, almost circling the cheetah.”

The cheetah’s efforts to see off the intruders proved unsuccessful and he was eventually forced to flee, triggering a feeding frenzy as the birds scrambled to get at the spoils. “We sat in awe, watching the vultures scurry and feast while the cheetah disappeared into the thicket,” Heasman recalls. The scavengers had little time to fill their bellies, however. Within seconds a lion charged into the fray sending the birds fluttering for safety as he claimed the carcass for himself. 

While hyenas are often (unfairly) labelled as cowardly thieves, lions will readily snatch carcasses from rival predators and, in some cases, stolen food accounts for much of their diet. This is especially true in areas like Tanzania’s Ngorogoro Crater where there are more hyenas than lions and the latter will readily capitalise on their size to commandeer meals.

Africa’s biggest cat was also the victor in this instance. He dragged his stolen quarry to the safety of some thick bushes where he began feasting on the unearned meal, leaving the vultures to watch from a distance.

Spare a thought for the cheetah who did all the work and received almost none of the reward.


Top header image: Ferdinand Svehla, Flickr