Small Terrapin Outsmarts Young Lion in Wild Video

Without a doubt, lions are fierce predators, capable of taking down enormous African buffalo and ripping their tough hide to shreds. But a new video shows how one adorable young lion seems to have met its match in a small but well-armored terrapin.

In this exclusive clip from BBC America's new series "Dynasties," a young lion discovers a marsh terrapin waddling through the grass. Curious, and perhaps hungry for a snack, the lion investigates the shelled reptile, pawing the potential prey and lifting it up in its mouth. The terrapin huddles tightly in its hard shell for protection, never yielding to the lion's torment.

Losing patience, the young lion drops the terrapin upside-down, and slumps away. As soon as the coast is clear, the clever terrapin uses its neck to flop itself right-side-up and marches straight into the water, away from any other potentially curious predators. [In Photos: The Lions of Kenya's Masai Mara]

The lion featured in the video is a member of the Marsh Pride of Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve. The Masai Mara is a large game reserve famous for its impressive wildlife, including leopards, cheetahs, zebras, wildebeests and gazelles. The area is also home to several formidable prides of lions.

BBC America followed the Marsh Pride and its female leaders, Charm and Sienna, in the new documentary series "Dynasties." The show chronicles the trials and tribulations of lions living in the African savannah — the struggle to capture prey, competition with rival lion prides and deadly encounters with humans.

A young lion cub in Kenya's Masai Mara. (Image credit: Simon Blakeney/BBC America)

African lions (Panthera leo) are scattered throughout central and eastern portions of the continent, and their populations have dropped by nearly 50 percent in the last two decades, according to BBC America. Only around 20,000 lions remain in the wild, with fewer than 2,000 in Kenya. The primary threats to their population come from human-caused habitat loss due to farming, ranching and urban development, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN).

Lion prides typically consist of several adult females and their offspring and occasionally a lucky adult male. Otherwise, male lions are shunned from the pride as soon as they are old enough to compete with other males, at around 2 to 4 years old, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Although lions have a predatory instinct, they aren't born expert hunters; they must learn and practice their technique once they're old enough. Cubs don't start eating meat until around 3 months old, and they'll continue to nurse until they're about 6 months old.

As seen in this clip, young lions may eventually learn which prey animals provide the best return on their investment. Hunting a lumbering terrapin may seem easy, but the bounty leaves much to be desired for a hungry lion.

BBC America's "Dynasties" gives viewers an up-close-and-personal look into the family lives of five of the most celebrated and endangered animals on the planet. The first episode, "Lion," premieres Saturday, Jan. 19, on BBC America at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CST. Viewers can also watch the first episode for free online.

Originally published on Live Science.

Kimberly Hickok
Live Science Contributor

Kimberly has a bachelor's degree in marine biology from Texas A&M University, a master's degree in biology from Southeastern Louisiana University and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is a former reference editor for Live Science and Her work has appeared in Inside Science, News from Science, the San Jose Mercury and others. Her favorite stories include those about animals and obscurities. A Texas native, Kim now lives in a California redwood forest.