DAR ES SALAAM—With its dramatic depiction of an osprey stalking, killing, and eating a lion, a video released Tuesday reveals what alarmed scientists have described as a massive and shocking disruption of the global food chain.
The graphic footage, caught on film by a National Geographic crew in Tanzania, shows the sea hawk descending talons-first upon an adult male lion and tearing open its throat, an attack that effectively upends all existing theories regarding predator-prey relationships.
"This profound disturbance could threaten the stability of entire ecosystems," said zoologist Rebecca Clattenburg, explaining that in the long-standing natural order of things, ospreys eat fish, which in turn eat smaller aquatic creatures, and so on down the line to algae. "It changes everything. We simply never predicted a 3-pound marine bird might swoop down out of nowhere and completely rip apart a healthy, 400-pound lion on the plains of the Serengeti."
"In fact, our observations up until now indicated eating lions was something ospreys did not do at all," she added.
A frame-by-frame analysis of the video verified the lion was standing poised and alert in broad daylight when, without warning, the osprey dive-bombed the great cat from twelve o'clock, repeatedly plunging its beak into the animal until, approximately 45 minutes later, it had nibbled the last of the still-warm flesh from the skeletal remains of its prey.
According to top scientists, the discovery challenges many fundamental principles of modern biology, raising new questions that are key: If an osprey kills a lion, does the osprey then rule the African savannah? If ospreys no longer eat northern pike, does the northern pike move to the top of its food chain? And if lions are wiped out, will zebra herds grow unchecked—or will the ospreys eat the zebras, too?
"It seems to be some sort of cross-species dietary free-for-all," said Clattenburg, now visibly trembling as she spoke to reporters. "I'm not even sure it makes sense to talk about food chains anymore. Anything's possible now. Big swarms of soldier ants could start taking out bears, for example—maybe even pythons. Imagine if bison suddenly became carnivorous. Or elephants, for God's sake."
Following initial attempts to revise existing food-chain diagrams by simply moving the lion down a little bit and placing the northern pike above the osprey, ecologists quickly acknowledged such linear approaches were far too simplistic.
Ospreys killings lions, they agreed, could permanently alter the earth's biosphere, and many expressed worries that even with advanced computer-modeling techniques, understanding the chaotic feeding connections between species could now be impossible.
"What caused this to happen?" evolutionary scientist Karl Duncan said. "Does it have something to do with global warming? Probably, right? I'm just a little concerned that everything is going to start eating everything else, and that's maddening, both from a scientific and a personal-safety standpoint."
"Suppose the lions and zebras and whatever else leave the ospreys unsated," he added. "For the love of God, what happens then?"
The incident in Tanzania lends credibility to other recent reports of food-chain aberrations. In October, a suburban Milwaukee family told authorities they saw a deer grazing on a nest of squirrels, and last week, a crew of Japanese fisherman claimed to have witnessed an estimated 300 million krill ganging up on a 40-ton humpback whale, apparently devouring the enormous creature from the inside out.
In addition, several experts who have carefully analyzed the original osprey footage have noted three stills in which a lioness can be seen passing through the frame with a Scottish terrier in her mouth.
"Where do humans fit into this new order?" asked St. Petersburg, FL father of three Dan Keller, nervously scanning the skies as he spoke. "I kind of like being able to eat everything. I'm less enthusiastic about the idea of something eating me."
At press time, reporters were unable to confirm whether a giraffe at the St. Louis Zoo had consumed a zookeeper and three crocodiles.