Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Tsavo Lions Hunting - From An Aerial Perspective

There are quite a number of wildlife photographs and natural history documentaries out there that showcase a pride of lions on the hunt. Most of these sequences and footage however have been usually shot from one angle, which is that of a vehicle on ground level. 
This particular hunt however is very special as it has been photographed from a rarely seen perspective ... A birds eye view!

While photographing a hunt from the ground, the photographer faces a number of challenges. The subjects tend to usually get lost in environmental noise such as dust, bushes, tall grass, trees and other permanent obstacles, but with an aerial view such as this one, a lion prides entire strategy unravels completely uninterrupted as if as you are looking at it on a chess board.

It all began one early Saturday morning at a waterhole in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya. A pride of seven lions were successful in bringing down a buffalo at about 06h30 and after enjoying their hearty meal, by 10h00 they scattered themselves into the surrounding shrubs to hide from the mid morning African sun.

Having monitored and learnt the behaviour of lions in the field over the last few years, I knew that these lions would return to the waterhole for a sip of water later in the evening and finish up the remainder of their meal.
We strategically positioned ourselves atop of a hill and patiently waited for the prides expected return in a few hours time. As evening finally approached, and as predicted, the lions came out from hiding and headed straight to the waterhole for a drink and then sat under a tree with some shade a few meters away from the mornings kill. 

Out in the distance however,  a lone buffalo was casually walking through the grass towards the same waterhole the lions were at a few moments ago. Its route was taking it right into the path of the resting lions. One of the lionesses that was alert, saw the wandering buffalo and quickly stalked her way towards it, camouflaging herself in the tall golden grass as she crouched and inched her way towards the buffalo which was non the wiser to the lion prides presence.

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The lone male buffalo freezes when it suddenly spots the stalking lioness camouflaged in the grass two meters away

The buffalo suddenly comes to a stop as it stumbles upon the hidden lioness less than two metres away from it. Both of them lock eyes and enter into a death defying staring contest. Seconds must have felt like hours as each tried to sense the others slightest sense of fear. With no resolution in sight to this staring match, the buffalo confidently took a few steps forward to its side.

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The buffalo stares at the lioness next to it and realises there are more lions resting in the shade

As it confidently tried to walk away from the predicament while constantly staring down its sworn enemy, the buffalo realises that it had nowhere to escape. With two lionesses a few feet away on its left and right sides and more lions waiting ahead under the shade of the Acacia tree, the buffalo now had a choice to make... fight or flight.

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Lionesses hidden in the left and right flanks burst into attack mode. The buffalo flees while staring at its eventual fate 

The hidden lionesses decided to make the first move and burst out into the open to attack. The buffalo quickly begins to run forward with both the lionesses hot on its tail, its fate seemed sealed.
As the adult male buffalo was trying to evade the grasps of the two approaching lionesses, it ran right past the buffalo carcass that the lions had killed earlier that morning. As it stared upon its fallen comrade, the buffalo suddenly received a shocking awakening of its possible fate. With a new determined burst of energy it suddenly changed its defence tactic from flight to fight!

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The buffalo decides to fight the two attacking lionesses in Tsavo East

With most of the pride now involved in the hunt, the buffalo had two lionesses on its tail, two at the front while the other three lions were sitting up and watching closely from under the tree. 
With fearless determination the buffalo took on the two lionesses at its front. Probably sensing its new found determination to live, the four lionesses continued to tease the beast but they slowly started to back down. 

Having already eaten their fill in the morning, the pride possibly did not wish to incur injury to themselves with the likes of an experienced raging bull. The four hunting lionesses slowly walked back to the pride members resting under the tree while the now chuffed buffalo continued to the waterhole to have its drink.

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