If we play a word association game and I say…..Africa!…. many of you will say…… Lions! And I would say Bingo! The King of the Jungle resides on the plains of Africa and I can tell you it’s a thrill the first time you see a lion in its natural habitat and you realize exactly why you came to Africa in the first place. It’s to see the big cats. A visit to Africa is exciting and worthwhile in so may ways but seeing and photographing lions is the capstone experience.
Historically lions used to roam south-east Europe, India and all of Africa but todays world lion population of approximately 25,000 lions reside in southern and eastern Africa. Males can weigh as much as 500 lbs with females considerably lighter. Lions are the only member of the cat family in which the males and females look distinctly different.
Lions are the only social species of cats and congregate into Prides of ten-twenty lions. Like elephants, the groupings are matriarchal and most hunting is done by females.
This young male and two brothers killed a Cape Buffalo (weighing roughly 2,000 lbs.) and feasted on the carcass for several hours. It’s one of the enticing and sometimes grizzly aspects of viewing predators in the wild….the full life cycle unfolds right before your eyes.
This young cub ran around with the remnant of a kill made just a few hours ago and we watched him being chased by his siblings as if they were playing a game of “keep away”. It’s the lion equivalent of a soccer ball.
It almost looks like these two were posing for a photographer. This Pride of lions was featured in the BBC series “Big Cat Diaries”. The Pride contained a lot of cubs and young juvenile lions who cavorted and romped with each other much the same way young domestic kittens do. For photographers, arriving at a scene with lion cubs out in the open playing with each other is the cats meow ( see what I did there?)
This Pride is called the “Marsh Pride” for obvious reasons.
Lions are very affectionate and it’s not uncommon to see cubs, juveniles and lionesses lying amongst and overlapping each other with lots of licking and nuzzling going on.
Leopards are the second largest of the three large cat families in Africa although they are much smaller than lions. Unlike lions, leopards are solitary creatures and mothers raise their offspring alone without the aid of a social grouping. They have large heads and very strong jaws and shoulders allowing them to drag kills weighing more than they up into trees where they can devour them without being threatened by other predators.
Leopards are scarcer in the wild than lions and getting un-obscured images of them doesn’t happen on every safari. We were thrilled to find this young leopard out in the open in his tree perch.
As we were photographing this young cat, a lioness was circling the tree below. Amazingly he was totally unconcerned about the twenty or so safari vehicles trying to get a view of him but focused his attention on the threat posed by lioness.
Cheetahs are the third and smallest of the three big cat species in Africa. Renown for their speed and agility, they are also solitary animals where mothers raise cubs alone. With small heads and long legs and tails they can run up to 70 mph in short bursts. Hunts usually last only 30-60 seconds and are successful only 50% of the time.
This cheetah killed the Impala shortly before we arrived on the scene and is stressed by the numerous vultures and cranes waiting for the cheetah to abandon the kill so they can move in. After feeding for a while the cheetah departed and the vultures began what can only be described as a vicious food fight. Within fifteen minutes the Impala was only a skeleton.
This Mom had six cubs but by the time we came upon her only five remained. Cheetah cubs have high mortality rates since they are easy prey for most of the other predators on the savannah. We photographed this cheetah family for about an hour and it was a highlight of the trip…..Absolutely nothing is cuter or more photogenic than a litter of cheetah cubs in full play mode.
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