It was our first full day in Serengeti National Park. We spend the morning cruising the tree line river beds, of the Central Serengeti, looking for Leopards in the riverbed trees. When our driver and guide received a message on the safari guide’s short-wave radio that a pride of lions had killed a Cape Buffalo just north of our area. It was about a forty-minute drive from our current location. And yes, the Serengeti is an enormous place, so this location was relatively close.
We decided to change our plans and head there. Soon we began to see other Land Rovers also heading that way. When we top the final rise, it was easy to spot the kill because there were at least twenty-five vehicles surrounding the feeding lions.
Then, the dance and jostling for vehicle position began. I was disturbed by how close some Land Rovers were to the lions. The vehicles formed a semi-circle around the lions. More and more vehicles kept coming in, as we finally found a clear space to view the lions feeding around the kill. It wasn’t easy, specifically; we found a small window to shoot through the sea of vehicles, and yet the kill was still a decent distance away.
For us with large telephoto lenses, it wasn’t necessary to be that close to the lions. Other safari vehicles with only cell phones viewers seemed overly aggressive pushing ever closer to the lions to get a better shot. In some cases, close as five feet away. I find this human behavior stressing to the lions and other wildlife of the Serengeti. No matter how important getting a close portrait image is to the photographer, nothing justifies getting this close and alternating their natural behavior and adding stress to their hard and difficult lives.
Maybe, I am being too hard on the paparazzi and human beings, by having some expectations that people have ethics and will take the right action, like putting wildlife first, before themselves. Let’s face it, I too am part of this dance. I am taking part too, and this sickens me. I want this changed, for it gives photographers a bad name and puts the negative spotlight on all of us.
I am digressing and giving some background information. This image of a lion cub above taking a momentary break from feeding was captured later in the day close to evening. After our late morning encounter with the feeding lions, we left, and late in the day, decided to go back. I am glad we did because in the middle of the day there were no lion cubs at the carcass. We also thought there would fewer vehicles there around the feeding lions. In reality, there were fewer, but still a lot of vehicles.
There were other members of the large pride now including at least three, four-month-old cubs, which were feeding on the buffalo carcass too. What was so amazing was that they were actually feeding inside of the abdominal cavity of the buffalo while adult lions’ mouths were feeding inches away from them. We could barely see them, and at times they were completely inside of the belly of the buffalo. It was a wonder that one of the adults didn’t bite down on the bodies of these cubs, as the adults moved their eating positions and their chewing mouths.
I captured this image as one of the cubs came out of the belly of the buffalo to take a momentary break from the feeding frenzy. This scene of the cub’s side by side with the feeding adults, disappearing into the abdominal cavity for their share is something I won’t forget. The determination of these little lion cubs and their audacity to get their share was something to behold.
The desire for life is strong and here it was so clearly visible with these cubs. A remarkable moment and a life lesson, which observed has the power to change and affect your own life. The dichotomy of how we behave, with the actions of the vehicles, ever crowding closer and closer for some hungry connection to these wild animals, to the purity of how they live their lives is very striking. And I am afraid, not a good or shining example of mankind’s behavior and not best actions towards the natural world.
It is my sincere hope that my lion cub image can put your heart in the right place, and all of us can do more to save this iconic species before it is too late and another species goes extinct at the hands of man.
There are other places in Africa that place limits on the number of vehicles around an animal. I know for a fact, Londolozi, in South Africa, has a three-limit vehicle rule. If a fourth vehicle wants to view the kill, this vehicle must wait until the first vehicle or one of the three leaves the scene, before it can approach the sighting. Maybe, three isn’t the appropriate or right number for the number of vehicles traversing the large Serengeti. Ten perhaps? Or maybe establishing a 75-foot rule, where no vehicle can come closer than this distance, is a better solution.
In Ndutu, there is a plaque on the lodge wall stating this 75-foot rule for Cheetahs. I believe this policy should apply to all large African mammals, especially for the big cats. There is room too for common sense, and judgment based on how the animal reacts and whether the animal is accustomed to vehicles. If the animal closely approaches you and the vehicle peacefully you need to stay put, be silent and let the mammal pass—panic doesn’t help either cause.
If the truth is told, while on safari and expecting to get portrait images of lion cubs, a telephoto lens is required, and you can’t rely on a cell phone for these types of images.