In what may have been a case of curiosity killing the cat, a lioness found out the hard way that it’s best to let sleeping hippos lie.

Video posted to YouTube shows a lion stalking inquisitively up to a hippo sprawled out in grassland repose. The big cat’s sniffing investigation rouses the enormous grazer, which shifts gears with frightening speed. Ears flattened, the lioness trots away slowly – a mistake, as the hippo quickly catches up with formidable tusked jaws flared open.

The hippo appears to take the lioness by the head, flinging her off her feet as she grapples with her assailant. The violent physical contact is brief and the video ends with both animals taking off in opposite directions.

Will Brookes, the person who captured the footage got in touch with National Geographic to report that the big cat “was later found dying, bleeding from its mouth and likely having suffered internal injuries.”

In this case, the ill-fated lioness may simply have been casing out the mountainous flesh-heap (perhaps checking whether it was a scavengeable carcass). From time to time, however, the big cats do attempt to prey on hippos: a tall order, given these multi-ton beasts are among the most formidable mammals in Africa. Their bulk, cantankerousness, and toothy business end make them iffy quarry to begin with, and then there’s the fact they spend much of their time lounging in rivers, wetlands, and waterholes  not exactly lion-friendly environments.

Though they clock most of the daylight hours half-submerged, hippos feed on land: they typically come ashore at night for after-hours grazing. A pride of lions that chances upon a hippo away from water may have a shot at taking it down, though it’s risky. Last fall we featured a video of one of these predatory attempts, a daytime attack in Kruger National Park that ended up involving a Land Rover in the proceedings.

Generally, though, adult hippos  famously capable of biting a crocodile in half  mostly don’t have to worry much about predators. Calves, though, are more vulnerable, and certainly a young hippo crossing paths with lions on land is in a spot of trouble. Then again, another Kruger drama caught on film last summer showed a subadult hippo chasing off a lone male lion from its stricken mother during a drought  proving even an undersized “river horse” can sometimes push a big cat around.

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Header image: Ray Muzyka