My Day With A Lion Pride
There are few things more magnificent than a lioness sprawled on a fallen Acacia tree, sunning herself without a care, or a baby lion napping in broad daylight, playing with his big brother, or the slinking stealth of the pride hunting. I saw it all on “My Day With A Lion Pride.” Although I saw lions on other days during my photo safari, this day was incredible, just like being in a National Geographic show!
We left camp at 6:00 a.m. that morning, on our way to try to catch hippos returning to the water after a night of grazing on the plain. We didn’t find hippos, but we did find a pride of lions setting up shop on two fallen acacia trees on either side of the dirt track that went by a smaller waterhole. On the other side of the water hole was a herd of about 300 zebra.
What is amazing about all of these animals is that they are so accustomed to safari jeeps that they don’t pay any attention to us, unless we get really loud, which we didn’t, of course. We parked by the tree closest to the road, upon which, amazingly, the cubs were gathering with their mothers. While the mother’s scoped the zebras, the cubs settled in for the day. The eldest cub, a 9-month-old male, was the “babysitter.” He watched over the younger cubs, sleeping only after they fell asleep. We were only about 30 feet from the tree. In the meantime, the matriarch of the pride and the second eldest sister took up residence on the fallen acacia tree on the other side of the track. This tree was about 200 feet from us.
Once everyone was settled, the three younger sisters left the acacia trees and started the hunt, leaving us with the cubs! They hunted for most of the day, tracking slowly, moving closer and closer to the waterhole, sitting in between moves. It wasn’t until the afternoon that the lionesses actually attacked. In the meantime, we photographed the cubs to our heart’s content, took a drive to observe other animals, and came back to find everyone where we left them. By then, other jeeps had arrived and we watched the lionesses slinking in between and around the jeeps, using them as cover, to make the final attack at the waterhole. What a day! Below are some of my favorite shots from My Day With A Lion Pride.
The day proved tricky for photography. The mist turned into a hazy overcast in the morning, bright sun around noon, and haze again in the afternoon. The setting was interesting, too. One direction was the plains, the opposite direction led to the hills, another direction was the lush waterhole area, and another direction was more dry. So, if they look like different days and settings, they’re not.
Enjoy this sights below, many of which are also available for sale on my online store. If you are near Clinton, NJ, in the month of January 2012-March 2012, framed versions are on view and are available for sale at Wholesome’s Bagel House, Clinton, NJ. Enjoy this magnificent animals! The following photo prints are available for purchase from my online store at: http://www.shutterfly.com/pro/annefreemanimages/AnneFreemanImagesPhotoStore
Below: The lioness looks like a statue to me; her beautiful form, the curve of her back, and the curl at the tip of her tail. Her coat is a beautiful color in the low, misty morning light. She is observing the activity at the waterhole nearby.
Below: Isn’t she perfect? This lioness is nursing the baby cubs, and is at the height of her beauty and power. We were in the “endless plains” region of the Serengeti. Notice that there are no trees all the way to the horizon. The reason that there are the fallen Acacia trees here is because we were very close to a river and a waterhole.
Below: I love this shot! One sister, up on the left, lazily stretches awake. The nursing mother alertly watches the waterhole. The eldest cub (about 9 months), watches the zebras with her. A baby cub (about 3-4 months) looks down at its sibling of the same age in the grass (unseen). I was amazed at all of the activity taking place, but nary a “word” spoken between them. For instance, how did the eldest cub know it was his job to babysit the babies once the lioness left them behind to hunt? What kept the babies from following their mother?
“Lion Family Portrait”:
Below: Aren’t these two gorgeous? The cub is learning by mimicking his mother. You can feel the connection betweenthem. How beautiful they are.
“Mother & Son”:
Below: I SO wanted to bring this little guy home with me! How cute it this?! I love how big its ears are, and how tiny its tail is. This 3-4-month-old cub is not long out of the lair. Cubs don’t leave until they are at least 3 months old. But already, this little guy is about the size of a medium size dog, and its claws to do some serious damage.
Below: When the lioness looked our way, I was suddenly worried that she would move our family. But no, she was looking across the track to the other acacia tree where the matriarch and sister were settling in for the day. They did not hunting, leaving the work to the three youngest sisters. You can see that her ears were tagged by a fight of some sort. Other than ear tags, these lions were remarkably intact.
“Lioness on the Acacia”:
Below: At the base of the acacia log, one of the two babies forgoes the onerous job of climbing up the fallen tree to settle into the long grass growing around the tree. Pretty purple flowers were blooming. We were there in June, the shoulder season between the wet season (winter) and the dry season (summer), so there was still quite a lot of green and blooms. I like how the grasses create a “shield” around the tiny lion.
“Purple Flowers & Lion Cub”:
Below: This is the big cahoonah, the chief of the pride. She is at least 12 years old at the time I took this photo in June 2010. She is probably no longer alive, as 12 is the upper age limit of lions in the wild. How do I know her age? Because it turns out that one of my former work colleagues put that radio collar on her ten years ago, and she was about two years old at the time. I call her “Lisa’s Girl,” because my colleague screamed “That’s one of my girls!” when she saw the photo. Turns out that Lisa worked in the Serengeti after she graduated college. The project was inoculating lions against distemper. Their population was shrinking because of canine distemper that was probably brought into the Serengeti by wild dogs. Whenever they came across a young female who was in good health, she was collared so that they could track them and determine if they established prides. What an exciting moment that was for both Lisa and me. Speaking of strength, look at the rippling muscles of the matriarch’s shoulders and upper arms!
Below: This photo just makes me chuckle. One of the sisters was starting off across the plains to stalk the zebras. It paused to look for her sibling to her left. I didn’t notice the tiny bird sitting on top of the stump until I viewed the photo! Now, I wonder, was she looking for her sister or was she looking at this tiny, apparently fearless bird?
Below: With his mother and aunts gone hunting, the babysitter is now responsible for the cubs. And, he was a patient, kindly big brother (or cousin). Here, the baby cub attacks his paw, which he lifted and held out to the tiny cub so it could get a better grip, all the while watching the lionesses stalking.
Below: A touching scene of sibling love. The baby is “greeting” its big brother by nuzzling. All lions nuzzle the eldest lion when the approach. I just love this photo.
Below: The babysitter takes a break from watching the hunt to rest. In this shot, you can really see how large its paws are! He’s going to grow into a big lion with those paws. Male lions stay in the pride until they are about two, when they begin growing their mane.
Below: No matter from what side, lions are just so beautiful. Look at his long, dark lashes.
“Silloette of a Lion Cub #2:
Below: We were slightly behind the back of the acacia tree for this shot. I like the sinuous shape of this cub and how the horizon perfectly intersects his form.
“Silloette of a Lion Cub #3”:
Below: Unless they are hunting, lions sleep around 14-20 hours a day, no surprise to you cat owners. The purple-speckled grasses provide a pretty background for this sweet portrait of a baby lion cub.
“Now I Lay Me”:
Below: What a face! You can see that the babysitter was sniffing us. Look at the wrinkles on either side of his big nose!
“Lion Cub Resting”:
Below: On the other side of the track slept the matriarch and the second eldest sister. The sun made their coats glow golden. You can see the track of the river behind them with the lush date palms and other greenery. Far beyond you can see the hills begin, dotted with acacias. If anything or anyone threatened the cubs on the other side of the track, these lionesses would be able to bound across to protect them within 15 or 20 seconds. To me, this photo show the true power of the lion in their world: what other animal would be able to sleep without concern in the open in the broad daylight?
Below: This is perhaps one of my favorite photos of the lion pride. Look at that face!
“Angel When Sleeping”:
Below: Look at that scrunched up face. They can sleep so soundly in the open. It helps to be king. How amazing was it to see these lions living their lives in the wild, behaving normally with us only ten yards from them?
“Close-up of Sleeping Cub”:
Below: And indeed, she is the African Queen. In my eyes, she is stunningly beautiful, the picture of grace and power. Look at how her features are outlined with white and black. God’s glorious design!
Below: His body is compact and rounded, and his tail is loose and long. A perfect contrast in forms. I could photograph this cub forever and never tire of it.
“Full Profile of Lion Cub”:
Below: This is another of my very favorite photos. I shot this when we approached the pride for the second time in the afternoon. The babysitter watched our approach, and I took a many shots as I could. This one hit pay dirt.
“I See You”:
Below: Here is my beautiful cub, in all his glory. I imagine that he will be king someday of the Serengeti one day. One of my best-selling prints.
“Portrait of the Dauphin”:
Below: This young cub joined the babysitter and the baby a little later in the morning. I don’t know what she was doing prior – probably sleeping in the grass. The grass is probably more comfortable, but then the animals are more exposed to insect pests. Notice her wedge-shaped face. She has a very different look than the babysitter.
Below: The baby made good use of the arrival of a big sister. The baby promptly moved over and plopped its little body on sister’s nose! She didn’t seem to mind, and they slept like that for a while.
Below: I laugh every time I look at this photo. The baby’s body is flattened out as it spreads itself across the log. Big sister is crashed, too.
Below: As the afternoon wore on, the matriarch and sister began to arouse from their slumbers. Action was starting at the waterhole. The other lionesses were closing in on the zebra herd. I enjoy looking at how the one sister is draped over the acacia log.
Below: One of the sisters stalking zebras and wildebeests, who were heading towards the waterhole. Look how she has her ears stiffened and out to her side. The three lionesses gradually moved the animals towards the waterhole, where they attacked!
Below: This whimsical photo captures the lion cub in a very funny position. He had woken from his nap and was watching the hunting action at the water hole. He propped himself up on the Acacia tree log, but it looks like he’s riding a playground see-saw.
Below: The mother lioness returns from the hunt, success literally smeared all over her face and chest. She gathered up the cubs from the Acacia tree and led them off into the high grass. You can see that she is happy – look at how she holds her tail up in the air and curled. The cubs most likely did not partake in this kill. The older cubs had full bellies and the youngest two are still nursing. The matriarch and the other sisters did not feed, either. Nursing makes her hungry, so she needed to feed herself.
Below: The matriarch and the second eldest lioness moved from the acacia log onto a knoll that overlooked the waterhole during the last minutes of the hunt. I love this portrait – the expression on their faces. It makes you – almost – want to go and scratch them behind their ears.
“After the Hunt”:
Below: In this photo, one of the hunting sisters joins the matriarch to rest after a long day of hunting. Shel sleeps soundly with here sisters close by.
Below: The third lioness in the hunt takes a well-deserved rest alongside the tracks, across from the three other lionesses. In this shot you can see how close we were to the lions. Look at her long face. The jeep was from a different tour company. I went with OAT Travel out of Boston. Their link is on my blog roll. An Incredible Day!
Thank you for joining me on this photo journey. I hope you have the same opportunity to see these wonderful animals for yourself. Many of these photos are available as prints for sale on my online store at: http://www.shutterfly.com/pro/annefreemanimages/AnneFreemanImagesPhotoStore
You have some dynamite photographs in this selection. I was going to say “Baby Love” was my favorite, but then I kept coming up with more favorites. You make it hard to pick just one. Thank you for sharing these pictures and the story and really, the lessons. I thoroughly enjoyed this article.
Hi Orples – I just found your comment on the Day With A Lion Pride gallery, which I’m reorganizing with the new theme. So glad that you enjoyed them. It was magical – seeing these incredible animals in their environment. I’m gald you enjoyed them.
These photos are unbelievable!
Hi Fgassette – thank you so much for your wonderful comment! I was just working on my Lion Pride page to get is cleaned up from when I changed my theme, and I just saw you comment. I hope you have a similar chance someday.
Great series Anne! I envy your trip to the Serengeti. We’ve gone farther South in both of our trips to Africa – much different feel than your photos convey.
Hi Scott – I think that the time of year I went made a big difference, which was the very end of May and the beginning of June. It’s right after the rainy season, so there was plenty of water around and green grass, which kept the grazers there, and consequently, all of the predators. We did have some drizzly days, but it was well worth the variety of animal we saw. The animals were relaxed and well-fed, and easy to photograph.
My husband and I saw your wonderful presentation at the library in December and I was trying to recall which month you went on your safari since we are thinking of going on one. Thanks for your info.
Hi Valerie. So glad you found me! I went at the very end of May into the first month of June. It’s right after the rainy season, so there was plenty of water around and green grass, which kept the grazers there, and consequently, all of the predators. We did have some drizzly days, but it was well worth the variety of animal we saw. I travelled with Overseas Adventure Travel, (www.oattravel.com), which did a great job. You may want to check them out. They are out of Boston. If you decide to book with them, I’ll give you my trip number and you can get $50 off each ticket.
Looking forward to seeing YOUR photos, and thank you for the lovely compliment about my presentation.
This post is absolutely mesmerizing. It is incredible to think you were so close to them as you had to have been to take such amazing photos. And the completeness with which you share your day — I will never see lions close to, so I am grateful to you for generously sharing this wonderful gift.
Your photos are superb, and so is your courage.
(P.S. If I had to choose, I think the African Queen would get my vote.)
Thank you for your kind comments. It was a fabulous trip – the top on my bucket list. And, you selected one of my favorite photos. I hope that you have the opportunity to take a safari one day. Thanks for dropping by.
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