Death does not always come swiftly for animals preyed upon by Africa's big cats. Much like their domestic cousins, lions have a reputation for playing with their prey before killing it, which sometimes results in lengthy, brutal bouts of cat and mouse – or in this case, cat and antelope.

While waiting for some wildlife action at a waterhole in South Africa's Kruger National Park recently, Graeme Mitchley and his wife witnessed nature at its most brutal. "Out of nowhere a lion came walking out of the dry bush with something in its mouth," says Mitchley, a regular visitor to the reserve. "At first, it looked like a lioness carrying her cub. However, at second glance, it turned out to be a young male carrying a newborn antelope."

The steenbok lamb was still alive, but the outcome of this sighting seemed inevitable. Inexperienced young lions sometimes prolong the life of their prey while still learning how to kill, and they can be surprisingly gentle in order to keep the "game" going. For the baby steenbok, there was no escape. Like many antelope species, young steenboks hunker down in the underbrush to avoid detection by predators while their mothers graze. At such a young age, the antelope has not yet developed its flight instinct and has no strategy for evading a potential threat if its hiding place is exposed.

Although this clip might bring to mind Kenya's famous oryx-adopting lioness, who was chronicled in Saba Douglas-Hamilton's "Heart of a Lioness", there is no misplaced mothering going on here. This is a male lion and the steenbok is his lunch.

"This is not, I am afraid, the story of a lion adopting a steenbok lamb in a confused state of nurturing or motherhood," explains Dr Paul Funston, Lion Program Senior Director for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organisation. "The brutalities of nature are often on display in the wild of Africa and this video shows an inexperienced young male lion who has stumbled across a steenbok lamb that was likely left hidden while its parents foraged. This lion is essentially playing with his food, and once his curiosity is satisfied, he would have consumed the young lamb."

The lion eventually carried the antelope out of sight, leaving the final outcome uncertain, but it's very unlikely that this steenbok would have survived.

"Already in the sequence one can see some blood on the hind neck of the lamb and the lion was plucking its fur, which is quite typical of how cats feed when they have ample time," Funston adds.


Top header image: Arno Meintjes/Flickr