“Aaaaaaaaaaaack!” Reflexively my jeep-mates lunged for their cameras. Panting from the adrenaline rush, they looked at me bewildered.
“It was a mistake! It was a mistake! I didn’t mean to hit the shutter!” I apologized feeling like a dope. For a second they stared at me and then they started to laugh. “I’m so sorry,” I said laughing too. Everyone in the jeep, including me, exhaled. My finger had grown tired and twitched, hitting the shutter and setting it off at 12 frames per second with a machine gun-like staccato. They thought they’d missed the shot.
We were all on edge. We’d been waiting for over an hour, our eyes glued to our viewfinders, fingers on the shutters, waiting for her to get up so we could capture the shot we planned.
Our strategy was to photograph the cat as she climbed down the tree, but we were racing against the clock. The sun was setting and according to the rules of the Mara Triangle conservancy, we had to be back at camp by 6:30pm. It was nearing 6:15pm.
From our position it was hard for us to see the lion as she straddled a large branch that obscured her from our view. All that was visible were her two paws and her tail dangling beneath the limb. We composed our shots for where she would be once she started to move, and we knew we’d only have a few seconds to nail it once she did.
Time ticked by and as the light faded our anxiety mounted.
Lourette, the wife of our photographic leader Marlon du Toit, had a better angle at the front of the jeep and could see the lion with her binoculars. She regaled us with a play-by-play of the big cat’s movements, or more accurately, the lack there of.
“No….. wait….she’s back down.”
“We’ve got two paws up and she’s starting to stand.”
“Nope, she’s back down.”
“She’s looking left.”
“I think she’s going to sleep.”
“She’s LICKING the tree.”
Periodically, a jeep would drive down the road that ran behind the tree. Terrified that the offending vehicle would stop in the middle of our frame, I talked out loud like a crazy person until I was confident they’d keep moving.
“No…No….No… Don’t stop! No… Don’t you DARE stop. Don’t you do it. Don’t stop!”
Suddenly Lourette shouted, “She’s up! She’s up!” Our beauty sauntered into view. A white jeep barreling down the road started to slow down. “Oh hell no!” But of course they stopped.
Lourette tried to wave them off but they were too far away or didn’t care. I couldn’t believe it, we’d waited forever, she was finally moving and some morons WERE IN OUR SHOT!
The lion lingered and slowly stretched. I snapped a pic as Marlon yelled to Sammy our guide/driver, “Drive forward!”
Wait what? She was starting to climb down the tree and we were moving?!
Marlon was taking a risk that we would lose the moment but he wanted us to have a better sight line without the jeep. Our car lurched forward, tipping left as it hit a deep rut. My camera fell back on me and I scrambled to right myself.
When I looked back at the lion I saw that she’d stopped half way down the tree. There is a God, I thought to myself. I hadn’t completely missed it.
We snapped away like crazy while laughing from all our pent-up anxiety. Moments later she gracefully leapt from the tree into the high grass below and disappeared. From the moment she got up until we saw her tail vanish was no more than 20 seconds.
Our adventure was over and we were spent. What a great way to end the day!
For more tales (and a few tails) from my recent trip to the Mara Triangle in Kenya, click here