Updated on August 8 at 5 pm ET: Will Brookes, the person who shot this video, has since reached out to National Geographic to explain the interaction he captured on camera during his honeymoon. Brookes explained that the lion initially stumbled away but was later found dying, bleeding from its mouth and likely having suffered internal injuries.
Video taken near the Maasai Mara wildlife reserve in Kenya caught a curious big cat with what at first seemed like a close call. While strolling through the tall grass of the savannah, the lion comes across a sleeping hippo. Likely curious about the motionless lump, the lion sniffs the rear end of the hippo, which startles it, causing it to jump to its feet and give chase to the lion, nudging the cat with its mouth.
Watch what happens when a lion startles a hippo. Footage courtesy of Will Brookes
"She seems to be simply curious, sniffing the hippo," said Kathleen Alexander, a Virginia Tech professor who has studied African lions. (Watch what happens when a baby hippo plays with a crocodile.)
While it may initially appear that the hippo grabs onto the cat's head, Alexander notes that the lion is biting and hanging on to the hippo's lip using its teeth and claws.
"If the hippo had actually grabbed the lion by the head, its unlikely that it would have survived," explained Alexander. (Video: On an expedition, this explorer's boat was suddenly toppled by a hippo.)
In fact, according to Brookes, the lion did eventually die as a result of injuries most likely suffered from the interaction.
Hippos have incredibly powerful jaws that have been measured at more than a thousand pounds per square inch. Often seen submerged in watering holes and rivers, hippos may have a penchant for lounging, but they're one of the most aggressive animals on Earth. They can snap a canoe in half with one bite, and they kill more people in Africa each year than any single disease except malaria.
The massive amphibious animals tend to be the most territorial in water, but they're quick to respond to potential threats on land as well.
Header Image: Watch what hppens when a lion startles a hippo. Photo from footage courtesy of Will Brookes