Why you should always respect your elders!

It was still very early in the morning as we made our way to a rendezvous with a few other vehicles from Kicheche Mara Camp. They had found the local lion pride breakfasting on a fresh zebra kill (taken down in the early hours). The two big pride males were roaring along with the lioness ‘killing team’ that had brought down the luckless zebra.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Dominant male lion glaring at lioness as he drags the carcass away. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₁₀₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 640

There wasn’t a great deal left on the bones, what with two pride males and the rest of the pride having had their fill. It was plainly obvious that the males were having seconds, with their massive stomachs already stretching to bursting point. The pride males and lionesses break out into roars. It’s not apparent why. Calling their pride? A warning to other prides or hyenas? All I know is that I could feel reverberating in my rib-cage.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Dominant male roaring over the carcass. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₁₂₅ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 640

In the distance, another lioness approached the scene. Following behind her, a pair of two-month old cubs were bouncing around and running about. Superb! The Landcruiser engines started-up and we all drove down to meet them and photograph their approach.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Lioness mother walking with two 2-month old cubs. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₃₂₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 400
African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Lioness standing with one of her cubs. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₃₂₀ sec at ƒ / 5.0 on ISO 400
African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₂₅₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 400

From a dawdle across the plain, their pace hastened as the tantalising smells of fresh meat were drifting downwind. The tell-tale crimson stains on the mother’s lips was a signal that they were in for a feast.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Lioness’ body language changes abruptly upon seeing the juveniles. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₂₅₀ sec at ƒ / 6.3 on ISO 400

Soon, they were within a few metres of the kill site. The lioness’ body language changed in a heartbeat. Her hackles were raised and her teeth bared. Three juvenile lions had moved in to feed but she did not like this at all. She began growling and snarling at them, but they just looked up and carried on eating. Comprehending their mother’s body language, the young cubs sat down in the grass. The lioness moved in closer.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Lioness snarling at other pride members. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₂₀₀ sec at ƒ / 6.3 on ISO 400

Across the carcass, just inches from each other, the mother and the juveniles snarled and growled even more aggressively. The younger lions grew nervous and began to back down, edging backwards and keeping their eyes on the ferocious looking lioness.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
The lioness charges at the juveniles. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₂₅₀ sec at ƒ / 6.3 on ISO 400

One young male turned his back to leave… then all hell broke loose. The lioness flew across the carcass, clawing and swiping at all three of them. They began sprinting away, but the lioness caught one in the shoulder with her claw and it span around.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
The lioness swipes and catches one juvenile in the face with her claws. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₃₂₀ sec at ƒ / 6.3 on ISO 400
African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
The juvenile somersaults in the air. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₃₂₀ sec at ƒ / 6.3 on ISO 400

With her other massive paw, she smashed it across the muzzle and it flipped over to release the claws now hooked in its skin. The youngster got to its feet and fled, chased now by the pride males whom seized on the opportunity to assert themselves in the melee. The lioness stood, riveted to the spot, shaking with fury.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS 5D ƒ/2.8L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₂₅₀ sec at ƒ / 5.0 on ISO 400

Just seeing the pure unadulterated, unrestrained ferocity and wild nature rippling through these animals is enough to give you shivers. After the proverbial dust had settled, the young cubs trotted over to their mother for some affectionate play and a reassuring suckle.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
After the scene settles, the lioness returns to reassure her cubs. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Masai Mara, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and EF600 mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens at ¹⁄₂₅₀ sec at ƒ / 5.0 on ISO 200

What is so remarkable about lions is just how quickly they can throw the trigger… A tender mother one second and the next, a terrifying killing machine. Why the youngsters didn’t back down immediately is a mystery. For one of them in particular, it was a very painful lesson in why should always respect your elders!