One amazing day in September 2013, I set out from Lion Camp in the Luangwa Valley for a morning drive and by 10am we had seen 31 lions! Amazing as that was, it was more the quality of the sightings that were wonderful.
Not surprisingly, it was the time that led up to the incredible moment captured in the first image that sticks most in my mind. One of those experiences that you wonder afterwards if it really happened and you know will be unlikely to come again!
We found the Mwamba lions feeding on a buffalo carcass on the banks of the river. We were a bit miffed to find out that the guide who had got there 30 minutes earlier (while we were photographing the Hollywood lions elsewhere!) had seen the Mwambas take down the buffalo, and we had missed it. Never mind, it was still a great view.
We hadn’t been there long when the lionesses started to look up one by one and lock onto something on the far bank. The river is very wide so this was perhaps 800m away. Eventually, with binoculars, we picked out two young male lions padding along the top of the far bank. They seemed very interested in the buffalo carcass and particularly the 19 females feeding there!
After crossing the water, the younger male pranced along the sand as if he owned the place, before lying down to wait.
We suspected a bit of bravado from the incumbent males would see him off but, in fact, the larger of the two resident males descended the bank, went round behind the youngster and approached him across the sand. It appeared that the youngster didn’t know he was coming, but in fact this is defensive behaviour, akin to pretending you haven’t seen something that you are fearful of.
The young male feigned ignorance to the pride male coming from behind, allowing him very close before reacting
By this point, I was prepared for the action. I knew that there would be little time to react to whatever happened, so I opted for a fixed 500mm lens with a 1.4x converter mounted. I chose f8, ISO 1600 and got a shutter speed of 1/1600sec. I judged this to be sufficient. I had no idea how the action would pan out so I put the focus in the middle of the frame and hoped for the best!
It could not have worked out better! The lions joined, fought on their back legs, rolled and then separated. They maintained a perpendicular orientation to me which meant that I never lost sight of their eyes and then the larger male set of down the beach in pursuit of the intruder!
It was quite a sighting and one that I will never forget. Of course it seems madness for the young male to challenge one so much older and larger, but the scrap was only moments in duration, and that is how youngsters test the incumbent males, keeping them fit and ensuring that they get the chance to take over at the first possible opportunity!
Having seen off the intruder, the big male returned slowly along the sand, panting in the heat of the September day.
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Photos and words by
Edward has been a safari guide in the Luangwa Valley since 2009, reflecting his love for the bush, its inhabitants and the pleasure of being immersed in wild places. He runs photographic safaris combining authentic wildlife experiences with excellent photographic guidance.