Today is #WorldLionDay: A salute to lions worldwide and the tireless organizations that seek to end the threat of extinction bearing down on this incredible species. While the world has been inundated with stories about Cecil the lion (and for good reason), our global culture is fickle and I am glad that this celebration is taking place a few weeks after the rush of media to keep the issues (poaching, canned and trophy hunting) top of mind.
Yesterday, a piece I put together entitled “The Spectacular Beauty of Lions” went live on Mashable, commemorating this special day. Fourteen wonderful photographers were kind enough to allow me to use one of their favorite photos in support of the initiative. If you have a moment to check it out, please do.
For this piece, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite lion memories from the bush. The sighting may not have been all that dramatic or perhaps it was fleeting, but when I sit and reminisce, these are some of the moments that come to mind.
- Two lions from a large pride slink through the high grass in the Okavango Delta. The sun was rising, casting a golden light on the duo. It’s extraordinary how easily they blend into the landscape.
2. It’s moments like this that make me want to jump out of the jeep and snuggle the king of the beasts. It’s all I can do to remind myself that this cuddly looking, sleepy (big) cat would run away or, very possibly, attack finding my exit from the vehicle threatening. Admit it though.. you want to hug him to. ~ Masai Mara, Kenya
3. This large male was looking for his pride. He was roaring and sniffing for a long time until he caught their scent and began to move at a faster pace. I loved this moment because he almost looked like a phantom emerging from the bushes as he made his way through the high grass ~ Okavango Delta, Botswana.
4. A young cub desperate for his mother’s attention. Cuteness overload that lasted all morning. ~ Masai Mara
5. I saw this cub look at his mother with those big, sweet, lovey eyes and my heart melted. ~ Masai Mara, Kenya
6. A man and his babes. There was a third female he was “dating” (wink, wink) out of this shot. They group was lounging in the shade of some large trees and bushes in the Okavango Delta. It was a hot, sunny day and this is where they stayed, lounging and making lion porn until the night gave way to cooler temperatures.
7. This is Scar. You could say he’s one of the Cecil’s of the Masai Mara, beloved and admired by everyone who has the privilege to see him in person. He is a living legend (you can read more about him here). A warrior, scarred by many encounters with both humans and other lions. This was one of many sightings of Scar and his brothers, Sikio and Hunter, from the famed Marsh Pride during my last visit in 2014. The “boys” were only a mile or so from camp and we could hear them roar late into the night.
8. I’m drawn to moments like this. An animal deep in the grass, almost hidden. She was gnawing on the remnants of an impala but every few seconds would look up to make sure nothing was coming to steal her meal.
9. With only 150 desert-adapted lions left in Namibia, I was beyond thrilled to see the Five Musketeers, the subjects of an upcoming documentary called the “Vanishing Kings: Lions of the Namib.” These two of the five were weary after a long night of hunting and as the sun rose, decided to nap for a spell along the Hoanib Riverbed in the Skeleton Coast.
10. Who said cats don’t like water? These adorable cubs were just a few of a large pride in the Masai Mara (you can read a story about on of the adult females and her unruly cubs here). It was a scorcher of a day and it wasn’t even noon yet. A small stream proved a welcome respite from the heat.
11. Moments after this image was captured, this lion began stalking a long line of wildebeest and zebra that were walking through the Mara. She hunkered down in the grass and her prey was completely unaware, but we knew what would happen. She took her time, slowly creeping long and low, step by step. We kept trying to guess which wildebeest she would target. At one point, a curious zebra got within a few feet of her, smelling something but still not sure what it was. She didn’t pounce. Over 45 minutes passed until a young, feeble wildebeest came into view. We instinctively knew it would be the lionesses’ choice. In a few minutes it was over.
12. This is Sikio, Scars brother and at the moment these images were captured, an amorous male in search of a female that had passed by only moments before (You can read more about this encounter here). It’s a heady thing to hear a lion roar; to see him this close to the vehicles is incredibly special. His entire abdomen contracts in preparation and the sound is deep and loud. It can be heard for miles and I think that if I had been on the ground I would have felt it shake.
13. Lions, when at the peak of their mating cycle with get it on nearly every 20 minutes. It’s an incredible sight to behold. Both sweet and wild and utterly fascinating.
14. Most of the time, you have to leave camp to see wildlife. The animals smell humans, hear the day-to-day noise and most of the time steer clear. On this afternoon however, while we were out in the bush we got word from the Maasai back at camp that a lion had situated itself across from our tents on the opposite side of the Mara River. We immediately drove back and with comfy chairs and drinks in our hands, we enjoyed photographing this handsome male.
15. On my first trip to the Masai Mara in 2013, we came upon a pride of lions with eight ridiculously adorable cubs playing in the dirt road, their watchful mother’s only a few feet away. I loved this moment when one of the cubs began to stalk and chase a bird that landed in the road.
16. This was a very special sighting indeed when I learned my second year in the Mara that the eight cubs were all alive and well and really, really, big!
17. My last view of the Masai Mara in 2014 before driving to the airstrip, the first leg on a long journey home.