Nature is Brutal: Baby Elephant Falls Victim to Hyenas as Helpless Mother Watches During Mud Pit Ordeal in Zimbabwe Plains

A baby elephant was eaten alive by a pack of savage hyenas as its helpless mother was forced to watch after they both became stuck in a mud pit on the plains of Zimbabwe.

The hyenas tore off the baby’s leg as they attacked it overnight while the mother threw mud over her head in a desperate attempt to scare off the predators.

But she was powerless to save her baby, which was killed and devoured by the hyenas.

She then slowly died during a rescue attempt as she lay trapped in the mud next to her baby’s rotting corpse in Mana Pools National Park.

The heartbreaking scene was captured by wildlife photographer Jens Cullman, 50, from Germany, who returned to the site at least twice to picture the plight of the helpless mother and baby.

The mother was forced to watch as the hyenas killed and devoured her baby at Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe

She tried to save the youngster by hurling mud over her head, but was unable to scare off the predators. She is pictured here throwing the mud to scare off vultures that are picking at the baby’s rotting corpse

The mother elephant slowly starved to death as she watched  hyenas eat her baby and vultures pick at its corpse

The hyenas also ripped off the baby elephant’s leg as they mauled it to death while it was stuck in the mud

The mother pictured desperately rearing her head and trunk as she remains stuck in the pool in Zimbabwe

Distressing pictures from when he first found the stranded pair show the mother and baby desperately lifting their trunks in the air as they remain stuck in the mud pit as hyenas patrol nearby.

When he returned the next morning he found the baby was dead, with a pack of hyenas picking at its mangled corpse while the mother could only watch.

He kept returning to the site to  photograph the last days of the mother as she slowly succumbed to dehydration. The last time he saw her she was surrounded by vultures patiently waiting for her last breath.

The stricken female later died when an attempt to rescue her was made, Mr Cullman said. He found them while out on a morning game walk in the park, and said he thought they were there for a few hours beforehand.

‘It’s the worst thing that can happen to a mother,’ he said. ‘Both you and your baby get suck in the mud and she couldn’t help because her trunk was out of reach’.

‘For the mother to see and hear the noises at night as the hyenas kill her baby – I imagine that was actually very upsetting.’

The mother and baby pictured together a few hours after they were found on a morning game walk. Hyenas were nearby

The mother pictured with her baby (circled) shortly after getting stuck. Hyenas were seen circling the stricken pair nearby

The mother slowly starved to death as she remained stuck without food and water. She was also in the full glare of the sun

Vultures pictured perched on top of the mother and waiting around her before she died in the pool in Zimbabwe

Mr Cullman said he saw the hyenas arriving on the first day. ‘They killed the baby at night,’ he said.

‘I didn’t see that. In this park I’m not allowed to go out at night time so I went out first thing in the morning and saw the hyenas feeding on the baby. They must have killed it overnight because I left in the afternoon when it was still alive.

‘The mother couldn’t move at all. At one point she lifted her head when the hyenas were next to her and it looked like she used her trunk to throw mud over her back towards them.

‘In one photo you see her head and trunk up in the air and mud flying through the air at vultures sitting on her baby.’

Mr Cullman said he was unable to rescue the pair as ‘you can’t just go out with a shovel and start digging’.

‘I have other photos of a similar incident,’ he said, ‘where ten or 15 people are digging out two elephants… it’s a mission, it’s a big thing.’

Wildlife photographer Jens Cullman returned to the pool to take the images. The mother is shown here raising her trunk as vultures feast on her baby’s corpse

Hyenas feast on the baby elephant’s carcass as the mother raises her trunk and flaps her ears in an attempt to stop them

The mother raises her trunk in desperation as she slowly succumbs to dehydration and starvation while stuck in the pool

The mother pictured resting her head on the mud and raising her trunk. Mr Cullman said it was not possible to save them

He took the photos of their suffering as it was a chance to document their struggle.

‘If you break it down, it’s nature and this happens,’ he said, ‘It’s survival of the fittest. It was very hard to take those photos but I saw it as a chance to document it in a way’.

‘I thought a long time about posting or not because I thought they will have quite an impact on the viewer. For me it’s shocking. The close-up photos of the baby in the mud are unique because it’s so sad.

‘You see this helpless little elephant baby and of course I knew it would probably die because I couldn’t help it on my own.’

‘I heard the mother died while they were trying to rescue her. I didn’t go there anymore. I actually have to say at the end it was so sad for me because I couldn’t do anything.’

When Jens shared the pictures he said he received backlash from people who said he could have tried to help the stranded elephants.

And he admits that while he believes it’s usually better not to interfere in nature, he felt it was worth trying to get help this time because so many animals had suffered already.

The baby elephant pictured trapped in the mud. It was virtually submerged with only its trunk above the mud

The baby, pictured here almost fully submerged in the pool, was killed overnight by a pack of hyenas

The baby pictured virtually submerged in the mud with its mouth and body stuck in the pool in Zimbabwe

Jens said: ‘I posted the pictures and I got quite a lot of sh*t from people saying ‘you just took these to get clicks and you could have helped these elephants’.

‘But they don’t know the conditions there. They don’t know how it is to dig an elephant cow out of the mud alone. It’s not possible. It’s definitely not possible.

‘Usually actually I’m of the opinion to never interfere with nature but it was so different this year in Mana Pools with all these animals starving and suffering [due to drought].

‘It makes a difference if you can dig out a few and they will survive. The number of elephants is declining and if you can save a handful more, I think it’s worth it.

‘My Instagram account is a mix of everything I think – harsh things, brutal things, nice things and I think that’s reality. I try to show real nature – everything from very brutal, sad things like this to nice, cute things.

‘It’s important to show the full picture because we’ve lost connection. Most people on Earth live in big cities. This is just the real nature.’


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