“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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!”
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.
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.
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!