Africa

The Tale of the Lion in the Tree and The Evil White Jeep

Lion lying in a tree in the Masai Mara, Kenya, The Insatiable Traveler

“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 yelped apologetically, feeling like a dope. For a second they stared at me and then began 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.

view of a lion in a tree in the distance

My camera pointing towards the lion in the tree. I wasn’t kidding when I said she was far away. I’m using a Canon 1DX, which has a 12 frames per second frame rate and a 200-400mm f4 with a 1.4 internal converter engaged.

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 the lioness snoozing in the tree to get up so we could capture the shot we’d planned.

Our strategy was to photograph the cat as she climbed down the tree but we were racing against the clock. The sun was fading fast and according to the rules of the Mara Triangle conservancy, in Kenya, we had to be back at camp by 6:30pm. It was 6:15pm.

Lion hidden in at tree in the Masai Mara, Kenya, The Insatiable Traveler

From where we were the lion obscured from view. We had positioned ourselves to capture a shot once she walked out on the limb in front of us.

The hidden Lion

From our position, it was hard for us to see the lion as she straddled a large branch that obscured her from our view. Her paws and her tail dangling beneath the limb were all that were visible. We positioned the jeep and composed our shots for where we believed she’d go when she got up, 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.

Lion in at tree in the Masai Mara, Kenya, The Insatiable Traveler

NO!!! The dreaded white jeep arrives just as she stands up.

Lourette, the wife of our leader Marlon du Toit from Wild Eye Photographic Safaris, had a better angle at the front of the jeep and could see the lion with her binoculars. She kept us entertained with a play-by-play of the big cat’s movements, or more accurately, the lack there of. I was convinced the cat was fully aware of our angst, though we were at least a 100 yards away, and was just effing with us.

“She’s up!”

“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.”

“Head down”

“I think she’s going back to sleep.”

“She’s LICKING the tree.”

Periodically, a jeep drove down the road that ran behind the tree. Terrified that the offending vehicle would stop in the middle of our frame, I spoke 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!”

Lion in at tree in the Masai Mara -0555

My favorite shot composed to hide the evil white jeep below.

Suddenly Lourette shouted, “She’s up! She’s up!” Our beauty sauntered into view. Simultaneously, a white jeep barreling down the road slowed 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 nearly two hours for this moment, 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?! I was pretty sure my head was about to explode.

Lion in at tree in the Masai Mara, Kenya, The insatiable Traveler

Finally, the evil white jeep moved

Marlon was taking a risk. It was possible we’d miss the moment but he wanted us to have a shot without the white jeep.  Our car lurched forward, tipping left as it hit a deep rut. My camera fell back on me almost knocking me to the floor, and I scrambled to right myself.

When I looked back, 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.

Lion in at tree in the Masai Mara, Kenya, The insatiable Traveler

Off she goes….

We snapped away like crazy while laughing like idiots from all our pent-up anxiety. Moments later she gracefully leapt from the trunk into the high grass below and disappeared. From the moment she got up until her tail vanished was no more than 20 seconds.

Welcome to photographing wildlife.

Our adventure was over.  Sammy started the engine and off we went to camp.

What a great way to end the day!


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A lion in a tree in the Masai Mara in Kenya. A classic story of wildlife photography with the frustration, amazement and joy that comes with it. The Insatiable Traveler

 


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41 replies »

    • You are so kind, Nancy. Thank you….

      LOL.. like you were there cuz you were!! But I’m so glad you feel it reads well. I’m hoping to go back in late August or September. Also starting a NYC workshop with Turnley starting Sunday. You had great things to say about him so I’m excited. Wish it was in Cuba but this was definitely the more economical option. Would love to catch up sometime if you’re game. xoxo

  1. Oh how I wish I was in that moment! It seems a very breathtaking, nerve-racking (especially due to the white jeep haha) and wonderful experience!
    Love the photo! 😊

  2. You captured these moments well. I know from experience of our safari at Krueger in South Africa that it takes incredible patience to be willing to find and then wait for the right wildlife viewing moment.

  3. Wonderful narrative of patience and frustration and reward. The photographs are incredible. Your favourite is also the one I would pick out as a favourite. I just love the strain in the body, what it does to her angles and muscles, and the way this big cat is oh so reminiscent of a household moggy in its need to stretch out after a long nap. It’s so familiar and yet so strikingly not familiar. I also love that final shot though – that capture of the moment and also the composition of the tree creating a diagonal and all the action being in the bottom right of frame. Superb!

  4. The joys and challenges of an African safari are numerous, and people who have never been on one do not realize the immense patience required. Wildlife doesn’t just show up, you really have to work for it. I’m so very glad your patience paid off, Susan, these are terrific photos.

  5. Thank you, Lyle, and it’s so true.. It was definitely worth the wait and it was fun actually – all the angst over the fading light, passing time – we were having a grand ole time. However, if I should ever come face to face with those people in the white jeep….. well, I’m sure you can guess. LOL

  6. Love your blog! Love your photos!!! What an awesome sighting!!!! So glad you were able to get some shots without the evil white Jeep in the background!

    • Hi Angelyn –
      HA! Me too… but there’s a reason the first photo, my favorite, is cropped as a 16 x 9.. the jeep was right underneath that big stretch of hers! Thank you for letting me know that you enjoy my blog. It means so much. I hope you return. 🙂

Would love to hear from you!