The brutal moment a young elephant calf is separated from its herd and attacked by lions as the adults try desperately to protect it

A helpless calf found itself at the centre of a dramatic stand-off between its herd and a pair of hungry lionesses.

This stunning series of photographs, taken in the Ruaha National Park in Tanzania, captures the moment the herd of elephants desperately tried to protect their calf.

Two herds of elephants had been drinking from the water, when the baby elephant appeared to become separated from the rest of the group as it tried to cross the Mwagusi River.

But two keen-eyed lionesses were quickly on the hunt, drawing ever closer to the terrified calf.

Relaxing: Elephants seen playing in the mud with a young elephant in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania, on September 18

Predatory: The keen-eyed lions draw ever closer to the baby elephant, as the herd of elephants gather force to stand up to them

Dramatic entrance: The lions scatter as an adult elephant arrives on the scene, desperate to protect the calf and help it to safety

After making their first attack, the lions injured the calf. But the adult elephants heard is cries of distress and came rushing to the rescue.

Although they tried desperately to help the calf to safety, the baby was too badly injured and couldn’t walk.

After a tense war of wills between the two groups of animals, the lions eventually claimed victory and brought down the exhausted calf.

Tour operator Paul Tickner captured the dramatic scene on September 18.

The 30-year-old said: ‘There were two and then three lions on top of the elephant trying to bring her down.

‘Very quickly the elephant collapsed, seemingly from exhaustion, it looked like it was all over, but I knew the elephant was still alive.

‘The lions were anxious and kept looking around nervously as the calf screamed in alarm.

‘They had done this before and knew the noise could attract elephants nearby.’

Lions have been known to work together to kill fully-sized adult elephants but sightings of the kills are uncommon.

Mother elephants are known to be extremely protective of their young, but it is thought the baby calf’s parent was too far away to help.

Watch and wait: The hungry lioness watches on as an adult elephant tries to help the injured baby calf to safety, in a tense stand-off

Inevitable: But the lions are victorious and attack the baby elephant, which has become weakened by the onslaught and unable to escape

However, a female member of the herd did try to help the young elephant – but to no avail.

Paul, who was born in Reading, UK, said: ‘Soon enough, a small group of females did come to the calves aid, chasing the lions off.

‘Heartbreakingly the adult female did all she could to bring the calf to its feet. In frustration and fear the adult elephant turned away as the calf appeared forlorn.

‘Agonisingly the lions, now in full terrifying hunt mode, approached the calf again.

‘The calf screamed out in desperation, the adult female spun around on her heels and again chased the lions off, who this time made a hasty retreat in respect of the elephants’ awesome size.

‘Through a combination of panic, disorientation and injuries to its legs, the calf could not get back to its feet.

‘Fatally for the calf, its mother had already moved off out of earshot.

‘Sensing the hopelessness of the situation the adult elephant finally left and the calf suffered its fate.

‘If it had been the mother it would never have left so quickly, such is the bond between mother elephants and their young.’

Team work: The lions work together to bring down the baby elephant, which is by now exhausted, and earn themselves a full meal

Victory: More lions gather to enjoy the feast that the two lionesses have brought. They keep a keen eye on their surroundings to make sure no other predators attempt to take their meal

Gruesome: The victorious lions feed on their catch, after the elephants give up trying to save the baby and move away back into the park

Satisfied: A lioness is seen resting on the banks of the river, enjoying her full belly after the exhausting effort of the hunt

Devastating loss: The herd of elephants move away into the national park after the dramatic stand-off, having lost their calf to the lions

Lioness chased up a tree by furious elephant