After finding the large Lion pride in the area around a dam the previous afternoon, first thing the next morning we headed off west back to that small dam. The earth ridge around the west side of the dam was ideal for the morning directional light. We found the pride of 24 Lions had draped themselves along the ridge behind the dam. This pride comprised females and cubs. The male was off with one of the females, privately working hard to increase the pride.
“A world without the distant roar of Lions at dawn as the mist starts to lift would be too terrible to contemplate.”
~ Derek Joubert
This pride of 24 Lions excluded the mating pair and also excluded two females with three cubs which had separated from the pride while their cubs were too young to join the pride.
While the large pride of Lions lay along the earth ridge, we were hoping for some great portrait shots. It had rained the night before so many of the cubs looked bedraggled and as you can see in the next image the clouds still hung heavily in the sky.
The size of this Lion pride and the number of cubs of different ages suggests that the structure of the pride has been stable for some time.
“Stop and unplug,” say I; “look around you, at the vastness and greatness of the natural world.” Some stop. Others need binoculars to tie their shoelaces.”
~ Fennel Hudson
These two mischief makers came down to the water’s edge for a drink. All their “rough and tumbling” had made them very dirty and what they saw reflected in the water worried them. You will notice how full both cubs’ bellies were, full of Zebra.
Other cubs just relaxed. It must have been busy the night before as you can see from the cub at the back soaking up all the sun’s warmth on his tum.
Two cubs came down off the ridge with their mother to drink at the water’s edge. The water surface was still with their reflections only broken by the ripples from them lapping up of the water. The Lioness had been kicked in the face by a Zebra the night before which is why her right eye looked swollen and bruised. The one thing you will never see is a Lion looking sorry for itself.
This cub was very wary of his reflection in the water.
You can see how easily a little mud can turn those beautiful tawny coats into dirty bedraggled looking ones.
The beauty of the ridge was that when the Lions walked on top of it, the background was far behind creating perfectly blurred backdrops.
On this particular morning, the Lions were relatively inactive so we did not get any real action like play fighting.
It is interesting to see some cubs, just like human children, like to watch all the goings on from a distance.
This shot was taken of one of the Lionesses after just having had a drink of water.
After their usually busy nights, Lions rest up for most of the day. They also spend time re-affirming their bonds with the pride through touching, head rubbing, licking and purring. When it comes to feeding, it is every Lion for itself and biggest first. Growling, snarling and paw slaps are common around a kill, where ranks are enforced, with adult males usually eating first, followed by the females and then the cubs. It is probably necessary for both the cub and the Lioness to re-affirm the bonds the next day.
One of the Lionesses got up and had a good stretch before wandering down to have a drink from the dam. You can see from the shape of this Lioness she was a powerful killer.
This cub was snarling at its own reflection in the water.
Later on that day we found the same pride of Lions some distance from the dam lying in the afternoon shade provided by a large Balanite. The next image is a panorama which shows the environment which suited the Lions perfectly. There was open space with relatively long red oat grass which Lions could just disappear in when they lay down.
Real family time. The cubs bonding with their mothers and aunts. The Lionesses do not seem to get much peace with all the cubs around. The younger ones are very demanding, wanting to suckle frequently.
A day later, in the same area, when found the pride on the move. I liked the image of these two Lionesses, alert and looking for prey in long grass.
Early one morning, we found these Lionesses lying in a patch of short grass as the sun was just starting to rise. The colours look strange but at first light with lots of dew on the grass that was the colour of the light they were bathed in.
A hour or so later when the sun was higher in the sky and the colours turned to something we were more familiar with. One of the Lionesses got up and started to walk off. On her way she stopped to sharpen her claws on these tree trunks. A few minutes later the cubs followed suit.
For me, this is an iconic image of Lioness in a sea of grass, ready to crouch down and disappear into the sea of tawny grass as soon as she could see prey.
One evening, we found the two Lionesses with very small cubs. The cubs might have been small but their demands were big. This Lioness was grimacing because two cubs were trying to suckle and fighting over one of her teats.
This was one of the causes of her grimace – cuteness with sharp teeth and claws.
This family was lying in the cool, long grass. The only way the cubs could get any perspective was to climb on top of their mother. “While you are climbing you should also attack the neck – just in case!!!”
These images were taken in the last light of the day and are testament to the incredible low light capabilities of Nikon’s D4s camera.
The cubs were not sure about this big green thing (our vehicle) which had moved in quite close, so the cub was hiding behind its mother.
Once they relaxed with us around, the cubs were very playful so we had to wait to get a gap in the grass to take a shot.
Already all the signs of a “lionheart” were developing.
Populations of African Lions have declined by 42 percent over the past 21 years, according to data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in July 2015, with fewer than 20,000 Lions remaining. The latest update to the IUCN Red List continues to identify Lions as “vulnerable to extinction” (one level above endangered).
According to Scientific American, the African Lion is not classified as endangered mainly because conservation efforts have resulted in an 11 percent growth in lion populations in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Most of these southern populations live within fenced reserves which have reached their carrying capacity and can not support additional lion numbers. Outside of those four nations, the situation is altogether more serious. Lion populations have fallen in most other countries, with an average decline of 60 percent. The worst hit has been the West African population of lions, which has now been classified as critically endangered. A study published in 2014 found that only about 400 lions remained in the 17 nations of West Africa.
“Where did we human beings get the idea that we have the right to commercialise everything we come across in nature for our sole benefit. With our lack of awareness we have no conception of how we upset the interconnectedness of nature through our ignorant, selfish interference. Canned Lion farming for hunting purposes is just one horrific example.”
~ Mike Haworth
Serengeti is one of the major African National Parks where you can see Lion in vast unfenced areas. Swelling population pressure and loss of habitat is unrelenting. Even in National Parks long known for their conservation efforts such as Kenya’s Masai Mara, the Lions are under threat. The Marsh pride became well known through the wonderful BBC series “Big Cat Diary”. In December 2015, a number of Lionesses in the Marsh pride were poisoned by herdsmen for interfering with their cattle. The poisoning does not stop at the Lions but also impacts others in the food chain from Hyaena and Jackal to Vultures and Eagles.
“Here is your country,
Cherish these natural wonders,
Cherish the natural resources,
Cherish the history and romance,
as a sacred heritage,
for your children,
and your children’s children.
Do not let selfish men
or greedy interests
skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
At the current rate of destruction, I wonder how many more generations are going to have the privilege of seeing these magnificent beasts in their natural, uncontained habitat – wild and free.
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.