Lioness, Botswana

Photographing a Lion for the First Time

She wakes from her afternoon nap with the soft orange shine baking her stoic face.  Like a wounded soldier she seems to have to press all her strength to the floor to stand up.  She cranks her neck and yawns widely.  Then, she turns towards us and strides slowly directly at me. 

Eye-to-Eye with a full grown lioness, no words explain.

We’ve been waiting for this lion to wake up for nearly an hour. I’ve never photographed a wild lion before, and my hands are shaking as she wanders over to our safari vehicle in Chobe National Park.

Lioness, Chobe

She steps closer and closer towards me as I snap the shutter of my camera and attempt to ease the shake in my fingers.  Adrenaline is flowing through me as I wonder if I need to stop taking pictures and protect myself.

I keep taking pictures, despite my instinct telling me that photographing a lion from so close isn’t safe.

I focus and refocus as she grows bigger and bigger in my viewfinder.  Soon she fills the whole frame, not soon after my lens can’t focus because she’s too close.  I pull my lens from my eye and see the lioness about a meter from my left arm.

Lioness, Botswana

She bends her head almost submissively and pauses for a fraction of a second then looks up towards me. 

We make eye contact for what seems like an eternity but was more likely the fraction of a second.  I see her right eye blackened in blindness and scared around socket.  Her good eye seems to have sadness to it.  Though her eyes show weakness, her body shows nothing but strength.  

In a quick surge, she races off away from us.

Lioness, Chobe National Park

As our Kalahari Tours safari vehicle erupts in oohs and ahhs, and the driver moves in hopes of seeing her again, my mind starts to wander to thoughts of the lioness. 

I wonder how she lost her sight.  She must have been in a fight with an elephant protecting its calf.  Perhaps she was protecting her own young from a giant male lion who had just taken claim of the pride.  I wonder if she found herself in a stampede of water buffalo or wading through waters full of crocs.

The adventures a lioness must have.  I wonder what it’s like to be a lioness in the wild.  I wonder what adventures she must have, the things she must see, the battles she must fight.  I like to tell myself that I live a life of adventure, but our lives are so tame.  Is it wrong of me to dream of the life of a wild animal?  Is it strange that I envy the lifestyle of this lonely lioness?

Lioness, Botswana

The world of human kind offers challenges of all types, but part of me has also searched for a more primitive adventure: one where we had to hunt for our foods, protect our lands, and fight for respect.

We see the lioness once more before we leave.  She wanders along the river front before again finding a tree to settle under.  She lays in attack position and lays nearly motionless waiting for prey to step within reach.  After 15-minutes we run out of patience waiting for her to hunt and we head to camp.  In the end, I may not have the patience to be a hunter, and I prefer my steak medium-rare.

Seeing Lions in Chobe National Park, Botswana

Chobe National Park is much more known for its hippos and elephants than it is its lions. However, there are a fair number of cats in the park. It’s actually one of the best places in Southern Africa for photography, in my opinion.

If you plan on visiting Chobe, I highly recommend checking out Kalahari Tours. For accommodation, there are plenty of options. The top place in town is probably Chobe Safari Lodge, though it is expensive. In my opinion, the best value in town is to stay at Thebe River Safaris.