What happens when you slap a huge lion on the nose?

As had become the norm, the Large Marsh pride were enjoying their morning sun-bathing session, sprawled out on the parched silt. The pride male was sitting on a lofty grass-covered vantage point, again looking windswept, interesting and still so majestic.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Marsh Pride male shaking mane whilst relaxing on a grass bank. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₆₄₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

As our Landcruiser came to a halt, he shook his great mane and stood up. Three young cubs laid on the cool damp sandy soil with their mother. One lion cub sat alone… watching.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
The massive pride male walks to his family. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₆₄₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

Stretching out, the massive male lion then walked down the hillock to join his family. The cubs stared at him with a mixed look of trepidation and reverence, eyes almost on stalks. Their mother looked apprehensive, but gently approached the colossal male and nuzzled him.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Pride male standing with his lioness and cubs. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

After deciding all was well, he flopped down in a giant heap and again the lioness nuzzled him in an overtly submissive way. All was quite. All was serene. The lion family soaked up the warm sun and we gazed and photographed them lounging around.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Lioness approaching pride male. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₆₄₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

After a few minutes, the pride male rose, looked around, then walked directly over to the lion cub sitting alone. Anticipating what might be, I framed the shot with the lion cub to the left and waited for the huge male to enter the frame (stage right).

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Pride male bearing down on one of his small cubs. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

As he approached the lion cub, the sense of scale became alarming. However, the comparatively tiny ball of fur didn’t seem the least bit alarmed. He simply looked up at the towering form and stared. All eyes, human and feline, were now fixed on the father and son.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Lion cub reaches up and bats his father on the nose. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₄₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

The cub, rose up on its haunches and batted the massive lion right on the nose. I had to laugh! Maybe nervously. Perhaps feeling the same sense of foreboding, the lioness approached the pride male and nuzzled her way under his chin.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Lioness intervening between male and cub. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

In a split second, the pugnacious cub snarled at daddy, the huge male snarled back, the lioness smacked him hard across the chops with a paw (no claws) and the male roared and smashed her back with thudding force.

 

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Lioness striking pride male on the muzzle in defence of her cub. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₄₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200
African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Pride male retaliating with thudding force. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₄₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

It was all over in just 9-frames – literally one second! After a few moments of snarling at one another, the parent’s aggression evaporated. The adults flopped on the ground and the smug little cub nuzzled into mum, perfectly relaxed, as if nothing had happened at all.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Happy families. Like nothing had happened. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₆₄₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

The sequence proved exceptionally popular with the national press and published by The Daily Mirror (in press and online), The Telegraph Online and The Daily Mail Online