Lions rarely hunt baboons. These large monkeys are armed with dangerous teeth, they are hard to catch and usually not worth the risk or effort. But there is one place in Africa’s Great Rift Valley where baboons are plentiful and lions have learned to catch them.
The river in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania never runs dry During the dry season herds of animals come to the river to drink. It is a time of plenty for the predators, but when it rains on the surrounding plain, the herds abandon Tarangire. The predators then only have the resident animals to hunt. Desperations forces the lions to target unusual prey; the baboons.
Baboons are vulnerable at night, so they well out of reach of the hungry cats. Some clamber up tall trees, others climb a huge rock kopje. The sides are sheer and the ascent is tough, but clinging to tiny toeholds, the monkeys somehow make it to the top. No lion or leopard can scale such heights.
Baboons wait for the day to warm up before rising. There is good reason for this. Lions and leopards are often active around sunrise. A lion eyes a warthog family. A hoglet is merely a mouthful, but something is better than nothing, especially when the lioness has her own cubs to feed.
To survive at ground level the baboons join forces with their neighbors, including impalas and banded mongooses. With so many eyes watching out for danger, it is very hard for predators to hunt in broad daylight.
At midday the heat immobilizes the monkeys and their hunters. The baboons know it is safe to sleep out in the open, but hunger can sharpen sense. A leopard pounces, it too targets unusual prey; a mongoose.
By late afternoon the baboons head for their sleeping areas. The coast looks clear but the local lions have perfected the art of hunting these wily monkeys. A lioness knows when to strike to cause the most confusion within the monkey herd; singling out one. The lioness is joined by her son in this hunt. Perhaps he will learn from her that baboons are potential prey.
As the land dries out, the hers wander back to the river and the time of hardship will be over for the lions. The pressure is off the baboons, but with these monkey hunters around, the baboons must always be vigilant.