Nature is often a stark, ongoing battle for basic survival, though not always merely for defense or food. Battles for dominance and procreation are as important as competition for nourishment. Strength and ferocity is not just for survival, but also for establishing authority and control in the animal kingdom. Here are 10 epic battles and chases in the race for life.
10. Water Buffalo vs. Rhino
The rhinoceros is known for its poor eyesight. The water buffalo, on the other hand, simply has a bad temper. In the above video, these two massive herbivores appear to be trying to prove their respective points. An adult white rhino can reach up to 3,600 kilograms (7,900 lb), whereas a fully grown male water buffalo weighs up to 1,200 kilograms (2,600 lb). The buffalo is at a severe weight disadvantage compared to its opponent; the rhino actually lifts it off its feet. It also appears that the buffalo may have suffered injuries. (4:54) In a ruthless display, even the other water buffalo seem to turn on the defeated buffalo, continuously butting heads with him.
There are both wild and domestic water buffalo, and the species has been introduced around the world, from Europe to Australia. Aptly named and built to walk in muck, the buffalo sleep in water and mud to stay cool and to avoid blood-sucking insects. The wild form of water buffalo reaches the greatest size.
With so few natural predators other than man, various species of rhinoceros once spanned most of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Now, rhinos are one of the most critically endangered animals in the world. The Javan rhino species in Vietnam was declared extinct in 2011. Only a handful of northern white rhinos exist in captivity, and they are now extinct in the wild. This video was shot by Grant Griffiths, a tourist on safari in South Africa. More on his amazing video can be seen at Nat Geo Wild here.
9. Lions vs. Hyenas
As humans, we very often personify many of nature’s creatures, perhaps to give us a greater feeling of insight. To that degree, possibly nothing mirrors the dark, warlike side of man as well as the eternal conflict between lions and hyenas. In this video, produced by filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, a hyena appears to completely instigate conflict with a pride of lions, leading to her demise. (2:41)
Constantly jostling for space in the same territory for prey, hyenas relentlessly harass lions to an eventual point of fatal conflict. As if to emphasize its hatred, a lion will nearly always inflict a painful death upon a hyena by severing its spine, cruelly leaving it agonized and helpless.
On the other side of the coin, hyenas will seemingly be pleased and flaunt their victory in the rare instances where they are able to kill a lion. Traditionally, the lion has been viewed as the dominant predator, but as our knowledge of wildlife continues to expand, we have learned that hyenas are the dominant predator in some areas.
8. Seal Breaches To Escape Shark
Because television shows are limited by time, we rarely see the realities of hunting in the wild, namely that the predator often fails, as in this Discovery Channel clip where a seal escapes from a great white shark. (1:29) There are probably more close calls than kills.
As a defense mechanism, a seal will literally tail a shark to avoid its jaws. Seals will also swim in close groups, interchanging positions to confuse the sharks. If the seal succeeds, the shark becomes so disoriented that it may eventually break off the chase.
Remarkably, great whites are generally able to differentiate between decoys lying still in the water and live seals. On the other hand, if an object is moving in the water, the great white will be less accurate at distinguishing prey from decoy. Interestingly, because it takes so much energy (like this shark), breaching is not a preferred manner of attack for a great white.
7. Bighorn Sheep Collide
Perhaps nothing in nature is as violently spectacular as the clash of bighorn sheep when battling for supremacy before a flock of ewes. These magnificent animals with thick spiraling horns will launch themselves from two legs, lowering their heads into what would be paralyzing impacts for most other animal species. Bighorn rams are protected by a double layer of bone in their skulls, as well as very thick skin.
Rams and ewes both have horns, though ewe horns are much smaller and less pronounced. Rams’ horns can weigh up to 14 kilograms (31 lb), or the same weight as all of its other bones together. The bighorn sheep’s keen eyesight may play a part in making their battles seem so precise in their ferocity. Whatever the case, the battles are nothing if not awe-inspiring. Interestingly, as nimble as these mountain-dwelling animals are, they have been known to fall off cliffs to their deaths.
6. Elephant Seals Battle
A lack of sex can make males of many species irate, and elephant seals are no exception. Because so many die before reaching maturity, and because dominant bulls drive off so many weaker ones, a surprisingly small numberof male elephant seals ever actually mate.
There are two species of elephant seal, the northern and the southern species. Southern bulls can weigh as much as 4,000 kilograms (9,000 lb) by the time they are nine years old and fully developed. Bulls build harems of 40–50 cows and defend them mercilessly. During mating season, dominant bulls use their elephant-like noses to warn off other bulls.
Northern elephant seals are smaller, growing up to 2,000 kilograms(4,400 lb). A conservation success story, northern elephant seals have recovered from an estimated 100 elephant seals in 1910 to over 150,000 today. Elephant seal numbers were decimated around the turn of the century, when whalers had to find an alternative for whale oil because whale numbers themselves had been demolished. Elephant seal blubber became the alternative.
5. Bison Kill An Elk To Distract A Wolf
In this Nat Geo Wild video, when a lone wolf attacks a young elk, it appears that a herd of bison will be the elk’s refuge. Unfortunately, bison are dangerous to any animal, and this herd rejects the elk, killing it, perhaps in an effort to divert the wolf’s attention from any bison calves. (0:48)
Few animals in the world exude the power and strength of the American bison. The largest mammal in North America, bison battles are between 1-ton animals made of testosterone-driven muscle. In this video, two bison go head-to-head until a third one decides to join the fracas. It has been suggested that the bison’s low-hanging head is an adaptation to plains grazing, but there is no doubt that its massive head and thickly muscled neck is built for combat as well. Like many herd species, bison bulls build harems, but they will also choose favorites among infertile cows and defend one until it goes into heat.
While wolves will hunt independently, they are typically more successful as pack animals. A major threat to the North American wolf is sarcoptic mange, a mite-caused infection that became an epidemic in 2009. Even more dangerous to wolves is canine distemper, which killed over 65 percent of wolf pups in Yellowstone National Park in 2005.
4. Squirrel And Mongoose vs. Cape Cobra
A squirrel takes on a cape cobra before a mongoose takes over in this Smithsonian Channel video. (0:24) Watching these Kipling-esque creatures battle is like watching a mixed martial arts match at high speed. The mongoose has razor-sharp reflexes, almost always just out of reach from a strike. (2:24) The cape cobra, though it doesn’t spit, is the most venomous cobra in Africa.
As this video shows, the mongoose is not always the victor, nor does he always remain unscathed. (2:56) While they have a very high tolerance for snake venom, the mongoose is not completely immune, a common myth about this lightning-fast creature. What the mongoose has are acetylcholine receptors that are shaped in such a manner that snake venom cannot attach itself. It is believed that this makes the mongoose resistant to venom, though the specific mechanics of this ability are still being studied.
Because the cape cobra does not always raise its hood when agitated, it is sometimes confused with the nonvenomous mole snake. This can lead to unintentional confrontations and potentially deadly snake bites.
3. Sea Eagles Fight Over Fish
Eagles are visually magnificent and skilled aviators. In this video by National Geographic, sea eagles become locked in aerial combat, as a female tries to take a fish back from an intruder. Her mate comes to her defense, grappling with the interloper, with seemingly no fear of gravity or death, as the two eagles crash into the branches of the forest. (2:18)
Sea eagles are among the largest and most beautiful of eagle species. Skilled fishers, sea eagles will even rob competing species such as the osprey. White-tailed sea eagles are one of Europe’s successful conservation stories, having climbed from local extinction in Europe and the British Isles in the 1950s to more than 5,000 breeding pairs in the 1980s.
Like nearly all birds, eagles lack the usual male organ possessed by other animal species. Instead of a penis, the male and female eagles mate by pressing cloacas against each other. Oddly, the ostrich, duck, and goose are exceptions, being the only bird species in which the male has a penis.
2. Cheetah vs. Gazelle
The gazelle does not have the speed of the cheetah, but it does have a secret weapon—endurance. Because exerting so much energy drastically warms the blood going to its brain, the cheetah can only maintain its top speed for short periods of time before overheating. In this Smithsonian Channel clip, we see that the gazelle has evolved an expanded sinus passage that cools blood going to the brain, (0:14) something nature has not provided for the cheetah. This makes it possible for the gazelle to run for a longer period of time without overheating. The trick is for the gazelle to stay out of range of the cheetah long enough for the speedy cat to overheat. (1:14)
In addition to being the fastest land animal on Earth, the cheetah is incredibly agile, so much so that its agility is probably more critical to a successful kill than speed. Since the gazelle is not as fast but is more nimble, the cheetah must retain control of its body at turning speeds. Surprisingly, in spite of being able to reach such a high speed, the cheetah only takes down a gazelle about half the time.
1. Zebra Stallion Fights A Mare’s Father
Who remembers meeting their wife’s or girlfriend’s father for the first time? It seems that human fathers aren’t the only ones who want the best for their little girls. In this Nat Geo Wild video, a father fights a young stallion until exhaustion. The young stallion wins the filly away to start his own harem. A more intense fight between zebra stallions can be seen in this footage by Claudio Maioli at Claudio’s Nature Travels.
The African savanna’s immense zebra herds are actually made up of many small herds consisting of a stallion and a few mares. Inbreeding has been found to be an issue in captive herds of zebras, which is not the case in wild herds.
Surprisingly, the zebra’s famous stripes, once believed to have evolved as a form of camouflage, actually developed as means to ward off flies and other disease-carrying insects that will avoid black and white surfaces. However, there is probably truth to the stripes working as camouflage, as well. Foals are born with long enough legs to align with adult zebra stripes to add to the visual confusion.
10 Epic Wildlife Battles And Chases