Panthera leo, King of the Beasts, right? Well yes, as Africa’s largest mammalian predator, the ‘Lion King’ title is very apt. Yet most times we see them they are looking anything but fierce, earning their other somewhat unofficial title as the laziest of Africa’s animals. They spend up to 18 hours out of a typical 24-hour period resting, and that’s only on average. If they do a double shift on one day it means that on another day they may not do much at all – following the shade of a bush as the sun arcs through the sky may be the sum total of a day’s activity. Sometimes they don’t even stand up to relieve themselves! But when they are seen in action it can be one of the most awe-inspiring safari experiences you’ll ever have. A 220 kilogram male lion on the run with intent to do grievous bodily harm foremost on his mind is a blood-chilling sight indeed…
On the 3rd September 2014 Lawson’s guide Leon Marais and his clients – a family of three – were on a morning drive out of Lower Sabie Rest Camp. This camp is situated on the southern bank of the Sabie River and offers some wonderful scenery and ambiance, not to mention what is arguably the best game viewing in the entire park. They had encountered a clan of Hyena’s near the camp gate as they exited at 06h00, and then checked out the scene at Sunset Dam before heading down to the causeway bridge over the river. With the early morning sun shining from the east, the scene looking westwards towards the camp upriver was sublime – Hippo’s breaking the surface of the water here and there, bird species of many different types just beginning their day, a thin layer of cloud breaking up as the sun warmed the earth… All quiet and peaceful when suddenly a male lion ran across the road in front of them and disappeared into the bush on their left.
Forgetting the tranquil scene they raced ahead and found another three lions lying in the road. These three then got up and followed the first male into the bush, and it was assumed that they were all part of a four male coalition, with the older lion leading the pack. Once they had all disappeared Leon rolled down to the water’s edge to wait and see if they would perhaps come down to drink or something. Sure enough, two minutes later the bigger male appeared, going at quite a pace. He came out onto the road and ran past their vehicle and all the way across the bridge to the other (southern) side, roaring as he went. He was followed by the three younger males, but they stopped on the northern end of the bridge, reluctant to follow the first (at this stage we still though that they were all from the same coalition). The first male then stopped on the southern bank, and continued roaring at full volume, definitely one of the most awesome sounds of the African bush. Suddenly a 5th male appeared on their side, coming out of the bush on the west 20 meters or so from the trio of young males. The sudden change in body language of all four lions indicated that he was not welcome there, and the three set off in pursuit. At this point they made our way to the southern bank to have a look at the first male lion, and he now came back across the bridge, roaring at full tilt as he walked past. When he got to the northern end, he suddenly turned tail and came running back across to the southern end, his body language indicating that he was fleeing from the three younger males, and at this point the penny dropped – they were witnessing a clash between three younger males and two older males, with the latter now in disarray as one was on the southern bank and the other was being chased away from the bridge on the northern bank. The three lions then came back towards the road, and took a rest on top of an embankment next to the road, all visibly quite pleased with themselves for having seen the other males off. Suddenly they stiffened up and shot off back into the bush, presumably to chase off the other male lion once again, who was probably desperate to get across to the southern side to join his team mate. After a while they had still not reappeared, and the first male lion on the southern bank had disappeared towards the camp, and at this point Leon decided to go and try his luck elsewhere. They headed north into the plains with the hope of finding a Cheetah, and when your luck is running it really runs, for they came across a lone hunter an hour or so later as the ‘icing on top of the icing’, as Gordon put it, before returning to camp for breakfast (and the coffee machine was working today, so they were able to have a few cups of the desperately needed stuff, so the morning was very good indeed!). Just another day on safari…
Photo Tip: Servo / Continuous Mode Auto Focus.
When you have an animal running towards you, such as in the case of photos 3 and 4, switch your focus mode to AI Servo in Canon or Continuous in Nikon. This allows you to keep the face of the animal in focus as it closes the distance, without having to regain focus with every centimeter of movement. You just keep the shutter button half way down and the camera keeps it in focus the whole time. I don’t like this more for composing portraits etc, but when an animal is on the move, this is the way to go.
The three younger lions.
Males A and B of the trio, looking pleased with themselves.
The first male comes raring back across to the northern side of the bridge.
He soon turns tail and runs back to the southern side.
The three have now claimed the northern end of the bridge.
The other male appears again and is chased for a second time.