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#WORLDLIONDAY Part 3: Up Close & Personal – Guides, Photographers & Filmmakers

Welcome to our finale, today on World Lion Day 🦁

We finish our celebration of lions with an amazing group of safari guides, who work alongside wild animals day in, day out, seeking incredible sightings for their guests, and having the opportunity to live in the African bush, with a front-row seat to the “circle of life” that it offers.

They are joined by award-winning photographers and film makers, whose work highlights Africa’s beauty and the best that nature and the animal kingdom has to offer, as well as giving us glimpses of the remarkable scenes that play out in the bush, and the hard-hitting reality of the challenges Africa’s animals face.

Pride of Lions in South Africa © Drew Abrahamson/Captured in Africa Foundation

We begin with Andrew Aveley, a photographic guide and award-winning wildlife, nature and landscape photographer. He is said to “combine his love of photography with his passion for teaching with every opportunity he gets” and focuses on the animals of South Africa and its neighbouring countries. He is also a public speaker and creative photographic coach, running workshops and joining guests on safari.

He provides his moving thoughts on Africa and its animal king, saying “Africa is a wild and magical place. Finding and seeing one of its most amazing creatures in a truly wild place is nothing more than incredible. The soul is infected by the energy and pure raw Africa. Lions will always be the true African King.”

Male Lion © Andrew Aveley

 

“Almost no other species evokes the same response from first-time visitors as a lion does”

~ Chad Cocking, Guide & Photographer

 

We now share an enthralling lion story from Kane Motswana, a Guide, Wildlife Photographer and Bushman in Botswana. He is one of the most highly sought-after guides and trackers in Africa, with a knowledge that has been “accumulated and passed down by the San Bushmen over thousands of years”. Foundation Director Drew Abrahamson has had the pleasure of being guided by Kane in Selinda, Botswana (an area of the Okavango Delta), and says he is an incredibly talented bushman and his knowledge and tracking ability is second to none.

Kane says “I had this encounter while I was guiding guests at Selinda canoe trails. On the last night of our canoe trail I had 15 visitors at my tent at around 4am in the morning. I was in a pop-up tent and the tent was 40m away from my guests and staff tents which were along the river. This is how the story began, at around 12 o’clock midnight I dreamed about lions trying to get me and I was only protected by just a mosquito net. I woke up after the dream and stayed awake since. I could hear lions roaring from a distance, I calmed down after hearing them but still the dream kept coming into my mind. I did not sleep afterwards until 4am in the morning.

Some weird thing happened, both my lanterns outside my pop-up tent blew off at around 3am. I was still fully awake, just listening to the sounds of the wilderness. At 4am I heard a cat sneezing not far away from my tent, immediately I thought it is definitely a lion. Within less than 2 minutes I could hear the footsteps approaching my tent and surrounding it. With my quick counting there were more than 10 but still I could hear more coming. I quickly picked it was the Selinda Pride. I knew the Selinda pride is 15 lions at that time. No one knew what was happening at my tent. In my tent I had a .458 riffle and a bangbanger. I sat right in the middle of the tent, I could see them very well while inside the tent. Some of the lions pushed my tent, trying to stick their head inside and this is when I thought I have to fight. Of course I did not want to shoot the pride I have known for a long time, firstly I decided to use my bangbanger. But the challenging thing was, for me to fire it I have to open the tent zip a little bit so I could fire. At this point they were pushing my pop-up tent even more, I unzipped my tent just a little and I fired the bangbanger. The lions didn’t expect that, they scattered around and I quickly put another cartridge and fired a second one. At this point they scattered through our camp, running in different direction. I opened my tent and came out with my rifle, at this point staff and guests were now awake.

The lions didn’t bother us afterwards, they regrouped and followed the spillway. We as well regrouped, the guests, staff and myself. We camped about kilometre away from Selinda Explorers Camp. The camp could hear sounds of the bangbangers I was firing and they thought we were attacked and they came racing to rescue. They got to us and we told them what happened, everyone was safe and the lions had already left.

We had our breakfast and got into the vehicle and we decided to track them, after 40 mins we found them and they were on the move. They were very focused as they know where they were heading to. 20 mins after following them they spotted a herd of buffaloes and the hunt started. We saw the full drama for an hour, lions and buffaloes battling through the spillway and back into Mopane woodland and back to the spillway. It was full war for an hour until the lions got one subadult buffalo. The lions were able to get their kill and the herd of buffalo moved away. What an end to our canoe trail, after that amazing sighting we drove straight to the airstrip to drop the guests.

I am a San / Bushman, I had a different understanding of this whole incident, with the connection I have with lions and other predators or even with other animals. The lions came to fetch me or ask me to join them on the hunt. In my dream the mosquito net that protected me was the pop-up tent that I was in. After they left the camp they didn’t go far or made the kill until we found them again. 20 mins afterwards we reunited with them and the battle started. It was the last day of our safari before we say goodbye to each other and my ancestors offered this to me. I know this happened so many times to me during my guiding career, more specially if I’m guiding people whom I get very well connected with. Drew, I know you understand what I’m talking about because you were one of those who had an amazing sighting with me.”

Lioness glance © Kane Motswana

Herbert Brauer is an award-winning documentary film maker and life coach, who has spent many hours in the remote wilderness, mostly in Southern Africa, and has had a commitment to conservation from a young age. He has worked as a safari guide, professional photographer and wildlife cameraman. His National Geographic wildlife documentary “The Last Lioness” features Lady Liuwa of Liuwa Plain National Park in Zambia.

Herbert shares with us his insights into nature, explaining that “From my own experience I can certainly suggest that we don’t compromise our awareness and expanded consciousness by unbalanced focus on whatever we DO, and want to ACHIEVE. My personal take on this is that whoever would have benefited from a paragraph the lions would supply, needs to go inward, re-assess their motivations and intentions. After all, integrating Nature’s forces and powers is one of the most important steps for us in the next 2000 year kharmic cycle. We cannot rely on animals holding these for us outside ourselves anymore. Many have done their work and going extinct from this dimension and Earth’s journey.”

Filming Lady Liuwa in Liuwa Plain National Park © Herbert Brauer

 

“Lions will always be the true African King”

~ Andrew Aveley, Photographic Guide & Photographer

 

Chad Cocking is a Guide and Photographer at Timbavati’s Tanda Thula safari camp, field camp and homestead in the Greater Kruger National Park. Tanda Thula, which means “to love the quiet”, offers relaxing and wildlife-rich safari experiences, and supports local communities through their development programs, particularly in the areas of education and environmental awareness.

He tells us of his time spent watching lion cubs grow up, saying “So, what is your favourite animal, Chad?” If I had a dollar for every time that this question was asked of me over the past decade and a half, I could afford to sit and enjoy the same wondrous sights in a far more leisurely manner than I presently do. However, no amount of money would be able to buy me the time that I am so exceptionally privileged to have spent in the wilds of Africa. Although there are many possible answers to the question above, there is one animal that consistently enters the equation, and that is none other than the most iconic of African species; the lion. And, if I were pushed for an answer, it would have to be any time spent with lion cubs.

As a guide, one tries their best to showcase as much of Africa’s diversity to your guests as possible, but there is one animal that I will do more than any other to show my guests, and that is the true emblem of wild Africa. I know that Africa is about so much more than one species, but almost no other species evokes the same response from first-time visitors as a lion does. Even if they are sleeping. But that is the thing – even when they aren’t doing anything, just spending time in their company is a blessing. There is however a time in every lion’s life where the thought doing nothing is deemed to be “boring”, and as a result, those lions are forever getting up to something. It is a short period of their lives, but during those first few months of absolute cuteness, nothing brings me bigger smiles than spending time with lion cubs.


Lion Cubs in South Africa’s Timbavati © Chad Cocking

I was most fortunate enough to have spent my lockdown of 2020 “confined” to the wild expanses of the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, and the cherry on top was being able to watch six little balls of fluff grow into the confident predators that they would soon become. From the joyous first sighting to the heart-wrenching concern at realising that some of them were missing (fortunately followed by elation at the reunion of the lost cubs and their family), these lions cubs never failed to have me at any level short of “completely engrossed” in their lives. It was a treat that I will never tire of, and although these moments were but a glimpse of an isolated pride of lions in the grand scheme of things, considering the tremendous pressures that this species is under, it is always positive to see some success stories amongst the myriad of challenging circumstances that this species faces.

I know that I am naive to think that scenes like this will unfold ad infinitum in light of all of the pressures that face the African lion, but I do trust that the work that is being done to raise awareness for the plight of Africa’s apex predator will help to ensure that not only myself, but all of those lucky enough to visit this continent will be treated to the same special moments as I have been over the duration of my career in the wilds of Africa.”

Lion Cubs in the Timbavati © Chad Cocking

 

“The more time I spend with Lions I realise how dynamic they are”

~ Grant Murphy, Kings Camp Guide

 

Corlette Wessels is a wildlife photographer, who believes that “photography isn’t just a hobby, it allows me to capture special moments in nature and share them with you”. She shares with us her thoughts on the special Kalahari Lions and some of the issues facing lions, saying “I am often asked why do I love Lions so much? The Lions that have a very special place in my heart are the Kalahari Lions. To survive in the Kalahari you need to be strong as this is a place where only the best survive, it is unforgiving. Driving for hours in a dry hot desert and then suddenly you see something move far over a red dune, you know this lion has walked many kilometres to get to his pride or water.

With hunting, sadly they have become a very sought-after trophy and often land up in some trophy hunter’s home. In the Kalahari the fences are not great and often lions would escape the park hunting goats and cattle which creates conflict. No one owns up and the farmers often shoot the lions as they have no alternative. Sometimes the Parks Board are contacted but they are not always able to respond quick enough. Some of these lions are baited to get them outside the park and they are shot by hunters. Bone trade has increased and lionesses are killed for their bones, and often when they have their cubs with them the cubs are taken and sold.

There are more captive lions in South Africa than in the wild, this alone should raise a red flag, it is not normal. Fewer than 3,000 lions live a free life in South Africa! They belong in the wild not in cages, they are not pets and not animals you should be “farming”, in my eye it is wrong in so many ways.

Together we can help them be free and still live a free life and be there for generations to come. I have followed some of the Lions in the Kalahari since they were cubs, for years I have followed their lives and some are more special to me than others. Mufasa Jnr, Dawid, Ousus, Jan, Freek, Mukara, Munro, these are just a few whose stories I have and memories I have captured and they are forever in my heart. Love life with the Kalahari Lions.”

Kalahari Male Lion © Corlette Wessels

Grant Murphy is the Head Guide at Kings Camp, a luxury safari camp situated in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. The camp is known for its incredible wildlife sightings, including the Big Five, and is positioned in the savannah overlooking a waterhole. The Kings Camp team encourage environmental awareness in the area and benefits to the local community.

Here, Grant shares his love of lions, explaining “For most guides they have an unfaltering love for Leopards, for me it’s always been Lions. I can’t say exactly when or where this love began or how it came about but ever since I can remember it’s been there. Only since my studies did I start understanding them better and come to learn more about them, but it is spending time with them after gaining this theoretical knowledge that really won me over. It is great to observe what I’d learnt and see it in the wild but even better than that, it is how it differs to what I’d read in textbooks. The more time I spend with Lions I realise how dynamic they are and how they are ever evolving to their immediate environment and situation, whether it be to the habitat they find themselves in, the climatic conditions they have to face, the competition that surrounds them or the continual struggle to feed themselves. It is this ever-evolving behaviour to survive any environment that I love about them most.”

Timbavati Lion © Grant Murphy

We hope you have enjoyed the incredible array of stories we have presented in this special feature. These stories highlight what a remarkable animal the lion is, and demonstrates an enormous amount of passion that people have for the wonderful Panthera Leo.

We thank everyone enormously for their contributions to this special day, and for the ongoing work that all of these amazing people do to help lions and other animals. Whether you are a scientist, conservationist, researcher, photographer, guide, safari lodge manager or staff, traveller or simply lover of lions from afar – know that you are making a difference for lions.

If we all continue to work together, we can achieve great things. The lions are counting on us to do so.

If you missed them, you can read PART 1 HERE and PART 2 HERE

Happy World Lion Day!

🦁

 

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