For almost all newborn animals in the often-perilous savannahs, woodlands and forests of southern Africa, survival is uncertain. In a heart-wrenching video filmed recently in South Africa's Kruger National Park, a giraffe mother tried in vain to protect her newborn calf from an onslaught of predators that moved in at the prospect of an easy meal. 

After coming across a female giraffe towering over the lifeless body of her calf, freelance guide Stef Botha spent nearly five hours recording a tense standoff between the resilient mother and the lions, hyenas and jackals eager for a meal.

"It was such an emotional sighting," Botha told Latest Sightings. "Giraffes gestate for about 15 months and to lose a calf so shortly after giving birth must be a terrible experience. The calf must have died during the night and this mother giraffe stood there protecting it the whole night, up until the lions arrived the next morning. She kept a few jackals at bay, a hyena, and for a short while the lions. While she was chasing the hyena, the jackals would come in and feed on the little calf, it was terrible."

The giraffe mom bravely fought off a lioness that arrived in the late morning, but eventually gave up the carcass of her calf when a male turned up to forcefully claim it. "Perhaps because her own life was now at risk ... she walked off. The male lion grabbed the giraffe calf and headed off into the bush with it."

Although it's not explicitly clear how the giraffe calf died, it is suspected to have sustained an injury during, or immediately after, birth which it succumbed to during the night. Tourist Tania Lodder-Kotzé was present at the scene the previous afternoon and explains that the calf appeared to be struggling to stand: "Every time [the calf] tried to get up it either fell on its face or onto its side. It broke my heart to see [it] falling over all the time with mom trying to help and motivate [it] to get up. As a bystander you can't get involved, so you just have to wait and see what might happen next."

Although it's gut-wrenching to watch the female giraffe's valiant efforts to save her calf, it's not entirely uncommon for baby giraffes to perish in their early stages of life. The infant mortality rates estimated for Masai giraffe in the Serengeti is over 20% for one-month-old giraffes, suggesting that many of these newborns will not make it to adulthood. Around half of the giraffe calves do not survive their first six months – a figure that rises to nearly 60% by the end of the first year. 

This tiny calf's sacrifice was not in vain, however. It helps feed predators and nurtures an entire ecosystem built on balance.