Back in April 2008 (my god – where does the time go?) I wrote a brief article about the Animal Life and The Private Lives of Animals books, published by Casa Editrice AMZ. These first came out during the late 1960s and were written in Italian; they were then translated into English during the 70s. As I said last year, the art in these books is generally pretty fantastic and a joy to look it. However, the artists were, evidently, sometimes asked to paint things that they’d never seen (example: the sexual dimorphism present in Sable antelopes Hippotragus niger).
What also makes the books viscerally thrilling is that they feature numerous fight scenes. So, if someone, somewhere in the literature, said that they’d seen a rhino beating the shit out of a crocodile, a scene depicting this encounter was created and included. Last time round, I mentioned such scenes, but failed to share them. Here are a few of my favourites (all of which come from Animal Life in Africa, first published in 1968 and compiled by Rinaldo D’Ami and Alfredo Trincia). All might really have occurred on occasion, but whether they played out as stated in the book is open to debate.
Perhaps the coolest one of the lot is that shown above: Black rhino Diceros bicornis vs Nile crocodile Crocodylus niloticus. Note that the rhino is hard enough to take on two crocs at once: it reminds me of Peter Jackson’s King Kong… Kong is tough enough to take on not one, not two, but three V. rex. Why oh why might a rhino feel the need to kick the shit out of two crocodiles? The book says: ‘If it is in a bad temper, or wounded, the rhinoceros will attack any animal, tree or termites’ nest within reach. Here two crocodiles are getting the worst of it from an angry rhinoceros’. Oh, right. Of course.
Now, Cape buffalo Syncerus caffer vs Black rhino…
Apparently, hippos Hippopotamus amphibius have been known to fight sharks on occasion. Or is it the other way round? Actually, this scene depicts an event in which a hippo was attacked by a shark (presumably a Bull shark Carcharhinus leucas) in the St. Lucia River. However, ‘Although wounded, the hippopotamus was seen to counter-attack and eventually defeated its ferocious assailant’. Sorry, no more information. I recall an account mentioned in books I used to read as a kid where a thirst-crazed elephant ran into a river (or the sea?) and got attacked and killed by sharks.
Birds get some of the action too. Piracy, mobbing and general nastiness are pretty common among raptors, and large species frequently beat on or kill smaller rivals. The book says that the Secretary bird Sagittarius serpentarius is ‘often attacked by other birds and robbed of its prey’. ‘Often’? Really? In the picture, the aggressor is what I assume to be a Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, referred to in the book as a ‘grey kestrel’. Because the book was translated from Italian, this is presumably some kind of translation error. Anyone know what the Italian is for the Bateleur? Huh, I bet the French have no word for Bateleur.
Finally, here’s my favourite: Leopard Panthera pardus vs helmet shrike. The helmet shrikes don’t match any real species so far as I can tell and appear to be artistic inventions! Anyway… Ok, we all know that small birds will mob predators, and that some will become so enraged and/or bold while mobbing that they will peck at, and even land on, the object of their aggression. And I have little doubt that an angry group of helmet shrikes might give even a big predator a nasty peck or two. But the idea that ‘the leopard may well come off second best’ seems pretty unlikely to me (I’ve left the text on this time), and I reject this as ridiculous unless someone can demonstrate otherwise.
However one might criticise these books and their artwork, I still maintain that they were wholly worthwhile and educational, and I know that I’m not alone in that they helped to foster my interest in animals when I was younger.
For previous articles on unusual cases of combat, aggression and predation see…