Paul Slyer's Photography blog

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In the lion of fire

Recently while on a field guiding course in Karongwe Game reserve I had an encounter that will stay with me for the rest of my life…

We were out on our usual afternoon game drive looking for the resident pride of lions.  I was the designated tracker on this afternoon, perched on the end of our open safari vehicle.  For those of you who don’t know what being the tracker entails, it usually means sitting on a tiny chair which is bolted onto the front left hand side of the bonnet with your feet dangling over the edge resting on the bumper with two handles to hold onto to avoid falling off whilst driving along bumpy roads or speeding to an animal sighting. It is the tracker’s job to look for tracks on the dusty sand roads and to help the guide look for interesting sights on a game drive. 

One of Zeros Cubs

One of Zeros Cubs

Well back to the story…as we were crossing a dry river bed I spotted the resident pride of lions making their way down the river bed towards us.  I signalled to my guide, who switched off the engine not to scare the lions.  The were was made up of a magnificent male lion called Zero who was the leader, his 2 females and 2 younger males which were last years offspring.  The river bed was dry apart from 2 small puddles that had formed in tyre ruts.  Zero was about 20 metres in front of the rest of the pride and was walking directly towards me.  He stopped approximately 6 metres away from our vehicle stared into my eyes thought for a moment whether I would make a tasty meal then walked towards me…this is when I became really nervous!

 My guide and trainer at the time warned me not to move, not even to breath as this could spark an attack.  Zero got to within 1.5 metres of me, lay down at my feet and started drinking water out of the puddle looking up at me the whole time.  Now let me tell you I have done a fair few adrenalin sports in my life like bungee jumping, white water rafting and motocross, but nothing gets the heart pumping more than a fully grown wild lion at your feet!

Zero coming towards me taken by Robin Gilbert

Zero coming towards me taken by Robin Gilbert

After a few moments of composing myself I started appreciating the situation I was in.  To-date most of the adrenalin pumping activities I have participated in seemed dangerous at the time, but in reality have been pretty safe.  The chances of a rope breaking doing a bungee jump over a 100m gorge are pretty slim, but if Zero had decided that I looked like a tasty meal he would’ve had me between his jaws in seconds.  Luckily for me lions don’t associate trackers as food, but rather as part of the vehicle, which of course is alot bigger than they are.  

After about 15 minutes Zero got up and walked back to the rest of his family who where lying about 30 metres away, which gave me a chance to grab my camera and start getting shots of them.  Zero’s sons lay perfectly in parallel of each other and I got some good shots with one being in focus and the other out of focus.  Zero lay down facing one of his lionesses and gave her a nudge as males do when they what something more before getting up and mounting her.  She must not have been in the mood as a split second later she swung around and took a swipe at him. Obviously he was not impressed and let out a huge roar and wondered off sulking. These turned out to be great shots of lion interactions.

Zero drinking taken by Kim Carpenter

Zero drinking taken by Kim Carpenter

Well I think my close encounter with Zero has been engraved in my memory forever and I don’t think I will ever forget him and his pride for as long as I live.  I’m sure I will have plenty more encounters with lions in the future, but as they say “the first cut is the deepest”.

Cubs in a line

Cubs in a line

Having a tiff just after mating

Having a tiff just after mating

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Posted in Wildlife 8 years, 3 months ago at 6:27 pm.

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