Nothing stirs a male lion like, the laughing cackling call of hyenas. They are mortal enemies. When the numbers favor them, hyenas in large gangs chase female lions off kills. As cubs, lions live in fear of hyenas, for hyenas will kill lion cubs if they can. With incidences from their youth, male lions remember and as adults will go out of their way to kill hyenas. It’s war; combat where lives are at stake.
This male lion perked up during the midday heat when he heard the far-off call of hyenas. You can see the alertness and the readiness to engage in battle if the threat comes.
We were patrolling in the vastness of the Serengeti, heading south from our lodge in the middle of this giant National Park. We would follow the tree-lined valleys looking for game. These valleys were a good place to find leopards, but not today. As the trees petered out, we came upon a pan, with a little water in the middle of a sea of grass.
It was here that we found two male lions. One seemed a bit younger, a red devil, with a very reddish mane, and not fully grown in. Not brothers because of the difference in ages, but probably cousins, and from the same pride. Their mothers were probably sisters. Both were lounging along the water of this recently filled pan when we coast up to them in our land rover.
It was my first trip to the Serengeti and East Africa. Like many, I was really struck by the vastness of the plains. Here in the southern Serengeti, there weren’t many trees. These plains extended all the way to the horizon, shimmering in the midday heat.
When the distant hyena calls became louder indicating the hyena clan was getting closer. The larger and older of the two males awoke from his lazy sleepy place along the pan. After pacing around a bit, he faced the direction of the calls and tested the wind; here was an aroused big cat ready to do battle.
It was a moment we were hoping for, some action, and this big cat gave us everything we could have ask for as he sat up and tested the wind for his enemy. Here in this image you really could see and feel his intent; this male lion is truly the “King of the Beasts”.
With Lions disappearing in Africa, down to less than twenty thousand, and the latest trophy hunting controversy and killing of Cecil, the famous male lion, in Zimbabwe. I felt lucky and humbled to have seen these two male lions and shared a little time with them, just being in their magnificent presence was so special.
I hope to go back to East Africa, maybe, next summer, in the dry season this time. Maybe, a visit to Kenya and the Masa Mara too. If you would like to join me and experience moments like these images depict, please stay tuned, my friend John is working on another trip. Africa is an incredible place, and in the Game Reserves and National Parks, you still can see wild Africa as it once was.
Compared to my 2005 trip to South Africa, we saw many more Male Lions. Here is a Male Lion in the very early morning light, gazing across the plains, checking out what’s going around him. As Lions often do.
We had many different color manes among the many different Male Lions we saw, darker in the Serengeti, a really beautiful blond Male Lion in a different area of Ndutu. This one belong to the Marsh pride, and his mane is in between, not light, not red like some, and not too dark or black.
I just love the side profile with that intent look, and the light was just fantastic, just after sunrise. By the way, it was our last shooting morning, and last morning in Ndutu. What a way to send me on my journey home.
Maybe, he looks so alive, because right beside him is a lioness. He was between mating bouts with her, now waking up, and ready to begin to go again. Very visceral, especially the sounds, and the action of them mating. A picture that stays on the screen of your memory forever. For that story, I used my 100- 400 mm lens, that’s how close we were, and yet that’s another image too…
More stories and images of East Africa to come…
One of the many highlights of my trip to East Africa was lions. I saw many lions in many places: like Ngornogoro Crater, the Serengeti, and here in Ndutu. This image was taken along with the image I posted a few days ago—my last morning photographing in East Africa.
This is the female lioness that my male lion (previous image) was mating with. Here they are both greatly aware and very intently checking out what another male lion about 40 yards away is doing or is up too.
Sometimes getting two subjects sharp with a telephoto lens can be difficult. Here though both lions were close to the same plane so f6.3 aperture was sufficient to capture both subjects sharp.
Notice the noses…could it be that this young Male Lion is wooing an older female. Generally, Lions noses turn black as they age. Here the female lion has a completely black nose, while her male companion nose has some red, indicating that he is a bit younger than her…
Again, I just love the light; this early morning low angle light bathes them in a warm glow that accentuates the colors of the male’s mane and their beautiful tawny bodies.
A mating image next, should I dare!!!???
Affection: Before or After???
I haven’t dare post a mating image yet. Working up my courage. So I thought I would share an image with some affection before the violent mating act itself. We can learn a lot through observing wildlife, even the King of Beast can show affection, perhaps even kindness and love.
They do seem to get along better than some people, some nations. Just think of all the wars we have been through the last fifteen years. The Islamic Jihadist war against the rest of us, and the beheading of fellow human beings, man’s cruelty to his fellow man. I could go on and on…
It just seems that wildlife can teach us a lesson of learning to get along. I know that predators eating and killing to live is violent to some and they have trouble with this. However, through death comes life, everything has a purpose, nothing breaks the strands of the web of life. There is a harmony and a balance in nature; it’s only man that can disturb the cycle of life and break the web…
Anyway, we better pay attention. It might be too late already, because if we don’t, then this beautiful planet of ours, won’t be Mother Earth; it will be something harsh and deadly.
And then, the next great mass extinction will be Homo sapiens sapiens—us!
Mating Lions at Last:
After my lion image showing affection, here is my best mating image from that morning.
Lions can mate 4 to 6 times an hour, 100 times a day, and it can go on for days. After exhausting one male, the female will sometimes mate with other male members of the pride, to insure and protect her future cubs by bonding with all the pride’s males.
Lion mating is a violent affair, and does not last long –a few minutes at most. Usually the male will scent mark afterwards, claiming and marking the territory and the females in it as his.
Other than the gorgeous early morning light, I think the success of this image is that female is looking up at her suitor engaging in communication between them, and that her eyes are clearly visible and have such a wonderful expression… Even though, there is no sound, you can almost hear it from their expressions.
Perhaps, the moment of lion ecstasy!
A Drinking Lion and A Very Thirsty Lion:
Mating expends lots of energy, and is a very thirsty endeavor. After, repeat bouts of mating, where does a Male Lion go? He heads for the river and some water. Here are some images from the previous day, when the sun had gone higher in the sky, and the heat became a little more oppressive.
One vertical, the other a horizontal orientation, one a partial portrait and the other showing the complete body. Which one do you prefer, the vertical or horizontal image of the Male Lion drinking water?
Basically, these images were taken within minutes of each other at the same place.
Pictures are ultimately are about how they make your feel. Photography is an evocative art. Most of the time your responds comes from inside, within the gut, it’s a feeling, a sense, and or an emotion.
Knowing why, and articulating the reason we prefer one image over another helps us look within ourselves, and ultimately understand ourselves better.
So tell me which image do you prefer and why!
The Blond Mane Male Lion of Ndutu’s Marsh pride:
The females lionesses had just made a zebra kill in the middle of a wide low area and were eating. This male came out of the tree line, and made a beeline to where we were, coming straight at us, to get his share of the food.
Thus, he was intent and focused. I just happen to get this image toward the end of his run. It was a great behavior moment to witness! His eyes were open in this image, and I captured the movement of the leg as he strides, both help make this a special picture.
He is the most beautiful male lion we saw; his beautiful blonde mane is extraordinary!
The Power of a Male Lion:
I will leave you with this last one image as the magnificent blond mane lion pulls up a zebra carcass. Lions have incredible strength especially male lions in their prime. They rule the Africa savanna; they are the apex predator, nothing will stand up to them, except other male lions in their prime.
Lions kill to live and eat, if they didn’t exist; the grazers like wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, and especially elephants would destroy the habitation, and degrade the environment. Lions along with the other predators like leopards, hyena, and cheetah, provided a vital function in the African ecosystem and are part of the web of life.
Perhaps, the Last lions are walking on the earth now. Down to about 20,000.00 in Africa, their numbers are under extreme threat by poaching and loss of wild places to live. As the human population in Africa grows, tremendous pressure is put on Africa’s wild habitats. The days of finding lions and wild Africa outside of the National Parks is long gone. It’s only us, man, who can save the lion, and the wild places they need to live in.
These image of this magnificent blond mane lion stir my heart and represent to me all that it is to be a lion. I want to know wherever I am or live even if it is not in Africa that Lions will still be roaming the wild African landscape. Life will be diminished knowing that they will no longer roar at night, stalk the bush, sleep under the acacia trees, and hunt to feed themselves and their cubs.
If you would like to help Lions in Africa, please donated to National Geographic’s “Big Cat Initiative” and Cause a Roar!