A close encounter

I have no desire to ride horses – give me an engine any day.  So, when I am visiting Macatoo, my son-in-law’s camp in the Okavango Delta, my wife and daughter go riding looking for game and I spend my days in the Toyota with Bernard the guide and any other non-riding guests.  After 3 hours on one particular morning, sitting up front with Bernard and with a group of guests behind, we had seen just two impala. Spotting a piece of trampled undergrowth, Bernard tried to liven up the morning.  He jumped out of the vehicle and began energetically describing how a lion kill might happen.  Suddenly he froze.  I turned to look and there, hidden in the undergrowth, I saw this.

I started thinking through my options; did I know how to fire the rifle to scare the lion away? Did I know how to operate the radio to call for help?  Did I even know where we were?  As these thoughts raced through my mind, I realised that there were two lionesses just behind the lion, so all thoughts of using the rifle faded away.  Bernard stayed calm, walked very slowly backwards while keeping his eyes on the lion, and then, with the vehicle between himself and the animals, got back in.  Once safely in the vehicle, Bernard raised an eyebrow, smiled and quietly pointed out to the guests that the vehicle was practically on top of three lions.   My camera was ready, so I was able to start taking photographs.  This image was taken at 170mm focal length on a full frame D800.  It turned out that my sense of where we were was five miles out, so it was just as well than Bernard knew what he was doing.

Lions are big, scary and unpredictable.  They are also hard to find, and so it is a big moment to come across one of them.  We almost missed this one, lying in the long grass in the evening, waiting for some impala to walk by.

However, once you have found some lions, they often just sit or lie there, much as domestic cats do at home.  Lions hunt at night, so the best time to capture them on the prowl is in the evening.  In the morning, they typically have full bellies and are relaxed.  The lions we found were a good example of this.  They had gorged themselves all night on buffalo and, fortunately for Bernard, were now just finishing off their meal.

These lions in Hwange in Zimbabwe have picked a quiet spot to rest after a night’s hunting. If you are parked next to a scene like this you can hardly ask them to move to give you a more photogenic background.  Therefore, try different focal lengths, different viewpoints, and using as wide an aperture as possible to make them standout from the background.  It is also worth asking the guide to move the vehicle and to switch the engine off to reduce vibration, but don’t push it; the guides know best as to where they can go and what is safe.  Lions may seem very relaxed around safari vehicles, and usually are, but you should never take this for granted.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *