Lion lessons

This is the fourth post from my recent trip to the Masai Mara with CNP. The first post showed a female Hyaenas walking off with a Hippo calf skull after some interaction between three different types of Vulture and a Black-backed Jackal. The second post showed some of the interaction between two of “Scar’s” coalition partners and the Marsh pride. The third showed the dramatic and deadly interaction between the pride and a Leopard family.

This post shows some interaction in the pride and some Lion lessons a few hours or so after the killing of the Leopard cub. The one overriding feature of the pride this day was that it had become enlivened, in strong contrast to what appeared to be a very listless pride the day before. The cubs were playful and despite the different ages and sizes the cubs, piled into each other. It is clear you have to toughen up early in a Lion pride. The next image shows heart and not size in important.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

 The robust playing among the cubs has an important role . The cubs start to get the jist of how to tackle prey. This next cub is getting the hang of  attacking its prey from the back – watch out future Buffalo, Zebra and Wildebeest.

“Play energizes us and enlivens us. It eases our burdens. It renews our natural sense of optimism and opens us up to new possibilities.”

Stuart Brown, MD

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

During this sighting we were privy to a number of captures and killings of Warthog piglets. The Warthog families would venture out from the trees onto the open grasslands of the conservancy to feed. Once out in the open they were vulnerable. It was fascinating to see the different tactics used by the pride. On this particular day, the pride scattered, lying down in an open dispersed formation. There were very few trees in the conservancy so conventional ambushing was not possible. Once a Warthog family ventured onto the open grassland they would identify one or two Lions but did not see others scattered around in the grass.  This tactic led to six Warthog piglets being caught and killed that day. The adult Warthogs were fast enough to get away, but at least one of their piglets would run into a waiting Lion. The next image shows one of the Lionesses moving into position.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

While Lionesses were setting the trap for the unsuspecting Warthog families, the cubs were cavorting. Perhaps even this was a distraction used  by the Lionesses. The next images hows two sub-adults play fighting.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

“Necessity may be the mother of invention, but play is certainly the father.”

 – Roger von Oech

One of Lionesses managed to catch a Warthog piglet and immediately a cub ran up to her to claim its share. The cub was quickly walked over, literally.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

What was particularly interesting about this interaction was that the Lioness would not let the cub have a look in at this potential meal. Despite being swung around like a rag doll, the piglet was still alive.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

I can only presume that this cub was closest to her when she caught the piglet but it was not her cub and she was intent on  giving the piglet to her own cubs. The Lioness was not gentle.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

The Lioness dropped the injured piglet in some tufts of grass. Any cubs which were not her own were summarily chased away. I am glad I never had an aunt with an attitude like that.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

The Lioness swatted one or two over enthusiastic pride cubs making sure her cubs got the live piglet.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

It immediately became apparent what she was trying to do. She wanted her cubs to finish off the piglet, a hunting lesson. I was surprised at the aggression and competitiveness of the small cubs. One of the Lioness’s cubs grabbed the piglet by the back of the neck and started to run off with it, but not without stiff competition from a sibling.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

“Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.”
Theodore Roosevelt

The two cubs ran through the grass with their live piglet and their mother riding shotgun.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

Needless to say, with an escort like that no other cubs joined the foray.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

At no point did the Lioness try to stop the “running of the pig”. Her two cubs were very aggressive and intent on taking the piglet for themselves.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

In all my excitement  watching all this action, I forgot to check my shutter speed. The light has dimmed somewhat and the my shutter speed fell sharply. Needless to say, the image of the Lion cub tackling the piglet was, frustratingly, not pin sharp but you get the impression of what was happening. This poor Warthog piglet was getting mauled but was still alive. The cub had it by its ear.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

“The one excellent thing that can be learned from a lion is that whatever a man intends doing should be done by him with a whole-hearted and strenuous effort.”

 – Chanakya

In their mad dash with the piglet, the cubs had unwittingly run straight back towards the sub-adults. One sub-adult decided to knuckle in on the potential meal. The sub-adult grabbed the piglet but one of the small cubs, a female, was not prepared to give in.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

I was astounded at the tenacity and aggression of the smaller cub. It had one paw in the sub-adult’s face and three feet trying to keep its balance as it was being dragged along. At this point the piglet was still alive and clearly terrified.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
Abraham Lincoln

The sub-adult won the prize and duly despatched the piglet and the Lioness allowed it to happen. One big lesson from this incident, always check your shutter speed no matter how exciting the action is getting. The image on the screen at the back of the camera does not give enough clarity to be really discerning.

After all the excitement the pride settled down but remained dispersed waiting for the next unsuspecting Warthog family to venture into the kill zone. Here a Lioness and her near adult cub were playing.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

After play and school time, the pride does have it’s quiet and tender moments.  This was one of those serene times.

Photographic safari in Masai Mara,Kenya

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Mary Anne Radmacher

Anyone who has the patience to wait and watch to see the unfolding intelligence of the pride cannot help but be impressed. Humans seem to judge intelligence by their level of consciousness and ability to communicate. Nature  does not reveal its intelligence in necessarily the same way but in my opinion is no less intelligent. The strategies and tactics used by the pride show its natural and effective intelligence.  The adult Lions and the cubs’ ability to control their strength and aggression shows a high level of intelligence. The way the pride moved every day around the edge of the conservancy so as not to overwork any particular area shows natural intelligence. In a small way this shows the vast knowledge and intelligence embedded in nature, most of which humans have still to discover. In Africa, as in many other parts of the world, the problem is that these vast natural libraries of knowledge are being destroyed by the human race’s inability to live in community with nature. Rather the human race is acting more like a ravaging swarm of locusts consuming everything in its path.

“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.”

Joseph Chilton Pearce

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


6 thoughts on “Lion lessons

  1. Great images and story here Michael.
    Don’t you just love watching the interaction between a pride of lions? The light here was sweet as well.

    • Morkel, you are a Masai Mara man! That is one special place to photograph Lion. We happened to be very lucky as part of the Marsh pride was on the &Beyond conservancy so we could go off road. There was very strange light. It looked overcast and as if there was smoke from a far off fire. The light kept changing and catching us with our shutters speed down, hence some of the images are not perfectly pin sharp. I really want to got to Mana Pools with you but I cannot make your scheduled times for 2015 so it will have to be 2016. As soon as you can give me dates I will book. Go well.

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