By Tom Gillespie @TomGillespie1

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING STORY CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT

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A herd of elephants cool off in the water with the calf close by

RUTHLESS lionesses overpower a helpless calf during a dramatic stand-off with a herd of elephants

The young calf screamed out in distress after coming under attack as it tried to cross the Mwagusi River in Tanzania.

Two herds were drinking from the water, when the baby elephant appeared to become separated from the rest of the group.

Takedown: The lions get the better of the young calf

Sensing an opportunity, one of five lionesses resting nearby began to approach the vulnerable mammal.

Once the big cat had leaped onto the animal’s back, two other lions joined in to help with the attack.

The calf can be seen in pain as a the female arrives to help

As the calf cried for help, adult elephants from the herd arrived to try and rescue the helpless youngster.

Tour operator Paul Tickner captured the dramatic scene in Ruaha National Park on September 18.

A female from the herd arrives with back-up

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 big cats left with their tails between their legs

“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.”

After the adult elephant had conceded defeat the lions returned

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.

Feeding time: The lions feast on their prize