It was early morning and we had already been out since before sunrise. Our phenomenal Thomson Safaris guide, Robert, spotted a pride of lions not 100 yards from the dirt road. The young were intently peering into the distance.
The senior lionesses were missing and Robert scanned the plains before he spotted the pack leader walking down the road some 200 feet behind us. After 27 years as a guide, he knew from her walk that she was on the hunt. Two of her sisters flanked her in the tall grass on either side of her. Robert turned around and followed.
The leader moved into the tall grass herself and suddenly became rigid as she stared at two zebras, a mother and her offspring, across the road about a half-mile away. We stood in the Rover, our cameras at the ready. No one spoke a word.
The three lionesses stalked forward, inch by inch, focused on nothing else but the zebras. The mother zebra and her young were walking toward our Rover, unaware of the danger that lurked just ahead. The lionesses were now stretched out, waiting, in the tall grass, not moving a muscle.
Robert whispered to us to be ready, that the action would be fast and furious. The mother zebra crossed the road. The lions let her pass. The yearling hesitated for a moment.
When the yearling crossed the road, not twenty feet from us, the lions pounced. The kill happened so fast and was so close to us, my Nikkor 400mm with a 1.4 tele-extender could not even lock focus on the initial action. The zebra tried to turn away with a burst of powerful rear muscles, but she was no match for the lead lioness. With a balletic twist of her body the lioness grabbed the unfortunate zebra by her neck in her claws. In a split second the other two lionesses pounced on the youngster.
Now all nine young lionesses from the pride rushed over and joined the action.
In less than a minute it was over. The lionesses tore the neck of the zebra and began to devour her, all this taking place right at the side of our vehicle.
We stayed to photograph for about an hour, mesmerized by what we were witnessing. The balance of nature, the sacrifice of prey to feed the predator, an ecosystem functioning as it should. Humbling is a word that gains new meaning when one witnesses such life and death drama.
I’ll never forget the scene; the zebra squealing as the lions jumped from the grass to attack her; the sound of a pride of lions moaning and groaning with satisfaction as they tore the flesh from the animal; the bloody faces of the young lions as the leader stood nearby and watched until they had their fill.
Two of the senior lionesses formed a barrier to make sure that the mother zebra did not return. But, most of all, I’ll never forget the zebra mother, pacing back and forth in the background, as if waiting for her young to somehow emerge from the grass, miraculously whole.
These are but a few of the images we all shot that day. My clients, the six of us in two Rovers, would look at each other every so often as this unfolded, each of us reflecting without words the amazement and wonder of the moment. It was truly a gift. By time we left the scene, there was nothing but skin and bones left for the hyenas and vultures.
If you are a wildlife photographer, or would like to do more wildlife photography, please do not miss an opportunity to visit the Serengeti. Whether with me or another photo tour leader, you are in for a real treat.