An intense encounter with lions... and other stories!

Discussion in 'Nature' started by alex g, Apr 30, 2016.

  1. alex g

    alex g Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 30, 2016
    New York / Bath
    Rather than flood the wildlife thread with a rather heavy post, I'm sharing these images in a separate post.

    Lowotwa Lions

    We were driving around Lowotwa, a small area within Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, keeping our eyes open for any action, when we spotted a small pride of lions, a female and her three adolescent cubs - two males and a female. Just as we'd settled down to watch them, a fifth, rather older male appeared on the scene and began to approach the pride. Our guide recognised the newcomer as being the brother of the adult female, a four-year-old who had left the pride over a year earlier and hadn't been seen in the reserve since. It was the first that the cubs knew about this mysterious uncle, and they were clearly unhappy about his presence. Very soon all of the lions were growling and yowling enthusiastically at each other - the noise was indescribable. It was like standing at an intersection next to a chapter of bikers revving their Harley-Davidsons. And then suddenly the posturing erupted into a snarling, lunging fight, with the two young males seeking to repulse their uncle's advances. We were stood in an open LandRover at a distance of about 25 feet, with nothing but air separating our legs from five sets of exceedingly convincing teeth and claws. It's a credit to the camera gear that we managed to get any kind of shots at all, let alone any which were reasonably in focus!
    Eventually, the pride got the upper hand and the prodigal uncle was forced to slink away, with a good number of scars on his muzzle and the pad torn from his right forepaw. Such injuries usually heal themselves relatively quickly, but they were enough to dampen the aggressor's enthusiasm.

    Looking at the images, I love the way that the clouds of red dust heighten the drama, with the animals' legs casting three-dimensional shadows across and through them. But it's the facial expressions and body language that really kill me, from comic swagger through terrifying ferocity and finally soulful resignation.

    All shot with an E-M5 mkII and Olympus 40-150 Pro, except for the second to last image which was taken with a Lumix 100-300 mounted on a second E-M5 mkII body.

    The uncle on the left, one of the brothers on the right:
    Lions 1, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    Lions 2, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    You can see the bared claws on the uncle's right forepaw and the dark skin of the torn pad behind it:
    Lions 3, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    Lions 4, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    Uncle on the right this time - I love the shadows in the dust clouds!
    Lions 6, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    And afterwards:

    What a look! You can clearly see the torn pad of his paw in this one:
    Lions 8, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    This with the 100-300:
    Lions 9, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    Back to the 40-150 again. You can see the claw marks on his face and his evident reluctance to put weight on the injured paw. Lions 10, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    I generally use S-AF in preference to C-AF, since I find it makes it easier to pause briefly and frame shots, plus I enjoy trying to predict the 'psychological moment' at which to release the shutter. In hindsight, I would have probably bumped up the ISO a little so as to freeze the action a bit better, but frankly the zoom ring and the shutter release were more than enough to think about under the circumstances. :)

    Update - a couple more from the same set, again shot with the 40-150:

    Not the best of framing in this one - the action was so fast and unpredictable.
    Lions 5, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    I feel this one suffers a bit from human evidence at the bottom of the frame (tyre tracks), but I love the near-symmetrical shape the lions make, with both their tails curling upwards:
    Lions 12, Lowotwa, Samburu, Kenya.

    Sarara the elephant

    Time now for some Zen-like calm after all that craziness!
    The elephant population of the Samburu National Reserve is closely monitored by the Save the Elephants Foundation, whose research centre is located within the reserve. Each herd and individual animal is given a name to aid identification, and elephant movements are tracked through the use of GPS collars fitted to selected animals. Since STE is closely linked to the camp where we were staying, Elephant Watch Camp, we were fortunate to get the benefit of the extraordinary insight and knowledge of their staff.

    Our first elephant encounter in Samburu was with Sarara, a young bull, who generally lives alone, like most adult male elephants, frequenting favourite haunts over the course of a day. Our first sight of him was as he emerged from a clump of trees, ambling in our general direction (Lumix 100-300):

    [​IMG]Sarara 1, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    As he approached, he made a slight diversion in order to pass close by us, avoiding eye contact in the "live and let live" manner favoured by certain of the more aloof species of animal and the majority of New Yorkers (Oly 40-150 pro):

    [​IMG]Sarara 14, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    It's astonishing how such enormous creatures manage to glide along noiselessly, the fatty pads of their feet cushioning the impact with the ground and absorbing the sound (though I'd like to hear them try to be stealthy while walking on dry twigs).
    Then Serenoi, our guide, restarting the LandRover and deftly overtaking Sarara by means of an alternative route, parked the vehicle again, but this time directly in the elephant's path. At certain times of year, when bull elephants are in musth and become moody and more amorously inclined, such a move might not be such a good idea, but evidently at other times it is quite safe.
    I know that as humans we are inclined to anthropomorphize animals and convince ourselves that we can detect familiar behaviours and thought processes in them that are in all probability figments of our optimistic imaginations, but in all honesty, if ever there was a moment when I felt a tangible connection with an animal, it was when Sarara, a wild elephant, walked calmly up to our vehicle, hove to about eight feet away and gazed thoughtfully at me, not apparently with any particular intention in mind, but just out of curiosity and inquisitiveness. I would love to have known what was going through his mind during those couple of silent minutes – aside, that is, from wishing that freaking tourists wouldn't keep parking in front of him:

    [​IMG]Sarara 2, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    [​IMG]Sarara 3, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    [​IMG]Sarara 4, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    As a side note, I should mention that I was fully zoomed out for those three shots - 40mm may be an ideal length for portraits of humans, but less so for portraits of elephants. I had the 100-300 on one body and the 40-150 on the other, and had no intention of changing lenses in the swirling clouds of dust that get into literally everything. It taught me a valuable lesson in safari lens strategy - large, animate things in the distance don't always stay in the distance, and it's surprising how often you find yourself needing to pull back.

    Presently, Sarara strolled away and continued contendedly pulling down small trees and eating them. A few days later, however, when we were back at camp, the lookout appeared outside our tent and with his finger to his lips eagerly beckoned us to follow him. Out of the six hundred or so elephants in Samburu, three of the males have taken to visiting EWC on a semi-regular basis, cooling off in the shade of the trees and eating the acacia pods which litter the ground. One of those three happens to be Sarara, and, having evidently decided to swing by for a snack that evening, he was to be found milling around in front of our neighbours' tent:

    [​IMG]Sarara 5, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    Without a word we stole onto the veranda and gazed in wonder at the sight of several tons of wild elephant delicately accepting bunches of foliage from Serenoi's outstretched hand and champing on them companionably while gazing benignly at his captivated audience. According to Serenoi, it was the first that he'd heard of such a thing happening.

    [​IMG]Sarara 9, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    [​IMG]Sarara 10, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    [​IMG]Sarara 11, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    [​IMG]Sarara 12, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    I love this shot, taken while Sarara was carefully turning round prior to strolling away, apparently conscious of the potential consequences of manoeuvring his great bulk in a confined space:
    [​IMG]Sarara 13, Samburu, Kenya by Alex G, on Flickr

    An injured lion

    A couple of days after the Lowotwa encounter, we came across a solitary young lion lying in the shade with a broken leg. Although such breakages usually heal of their own accord, the temporary immobility means that the individual can't keep up with the rest of the pride when they move on, and sometimes die of starvation. Hopefully this guy made it. The soulful look in the eyes seems to speak volumes, however.
    This shot with the Lumix 100-300 at 300mm, f/5.6, 1/50th, ISO100. Personally I think it's an under-rated lens - you can even see a wasp of some sort in the corner of the lion's right eye.

    [​IMG]Lion with broken leg by Alex G, on Flickr
    Last edited: May 18, 2016
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  2. Harvey Melvin Richards

    Harvey Melvin Richards Photo Posting Junkie

    Feb 15, 2014
    Southwest Utah
  3. maritan

    maritan Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 30, 2014
    Wow. You were lucky to see such a display and even luckier to be able to capture it. Right time, right place and all that.

    Thanks for sharing a wonderful set.
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  4. Hazza

    Hazza Just Clicking

    Aug 10, 2013
    Huddersfield UK
    Real Name:
    Amazing action shots, agree about the shadows.
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  5. alex g

    alex g Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 30, 2016
    New York / Bath
    Thanks very much guys. Yes, the planets must have aligned or something on that trip, because we seemed to stumble upon a fortunate succession of unusual incidents. I'll post some more images shortly! :)
  6. ruralvelo

    ruralvelo Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 21, 2016
    Henderson, NC
    Real Name:
    Edwin Young
    Totally amazing encounter! Thanks for sharing.

    Sent from my iPhone using Mu-43 mobile app
  7. demiro

    demiro Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 7, 2010
    Superlatives don't do these shots justice Alex. WOW!

    Please share your plans for prints. I assume you will be doing something on a pretty big scale. I know I would.
  8. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 18, 2015
    These shots are absolutely stunning. Looking forward to your other shots from this trip.
  9. Luke

    Luke Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jul 30, 2010
    Milwaukee, WI
    Real Name:
    Great set of shots. I can't imagine the excitement. Did anyone capture a video of this? I'd love to see it....even a cel phone video would be cool just to hear it all going down.
  10. 350duser

    350duser Mu-43 Veteran

    Sep 26, 2012
    Brisbane, QLD
    Superb shots. The 40-150 worked a treat!!! To my eye it delivered much sharper images.
    Thanks for posting
  11. alex g

    alex g Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 30, 2016
    New York / Bath
    Thanks very much for all the complements, guys. I really have to pass them right on to the lions! I've added a couple of out-takes to the original post, and will add a new post with another set of images soon.

    @ Luke: yes, there is! My partner Jesse managed to catch some of it on his iPhone. I'll post a video shortly.:)
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  12. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Wow, these are impressive! :2thumbs:

    Thanks for sharing.
  13. rloewy

    rloewy Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 5, 2014
    Very cool. I had the fortune of visiting Samburu (and Nakuru, Masai Mara) 15 years ago - one of my favorite trips.
  14. alex g

    alex g Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 30, 2016
    New York / Bath
    Yes, Samburu is a magical place. We were there at the end of a very dry, dry season, which initially gave it a slightly forbidding aspect, but found ourselves quickly tuning into its particular frequency. We were fortunate in having two very expert local guides, Serenoi and Rosie, who knew the place and its inhabitants inside out.

    Here is some of the video which Jesse shot on his iPhone between shooting stills. He stood his ground until the very end when the female suddenly stood up and walked straight towards him, at which point he decided that it was more important to safeguard the future of his legs than it was to shoot video. I, however, was dauntless and never once abandoned my post - principally because I standing behind Jesse. :)

    Be sure to turn up the sound!

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  15. alex g

    alex g Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 30, 2016
    New York / Bath
    I've added eleven images to the end of my original post - not lions this time, though, elephants! :)
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  16. Krigskoen

    Krigskoen Mu-43 Regular

    Jun 10, 2015
    Great shots :) The details on the elephant skin is amazing
  17. maritan

    maritan Mu-43 Veteran

    Oct 30, 2014
    Nice video. Gives you an idea of the tension and drama that filled the air. I want to go so badly!
  18. quickeye

    quickeye Mu-43 Rookie

    Dec 16, 2011
    Phoenix, AZ
    Real Name:
    Really excellent photos, thanks for sharing!
  19. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Real Name:
    Wow! Talk about being in the right place at the right time. And, being prepared. Great shots, and very dramatic.
  20. Ziji

    Ziji Mu-43 Rookie

    Jul 2, 2010
    Wow ! Great images of these magnificent yet deadly formidable animals.