Lioness on the Hunt

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This page has a sequence of photos of a lioness stalking and killing a wildebeest in the Serengeti of Tanzania in July of 2009. The powerful primal instincts of this predator are readily seen. Nature’s brutality is also apparent so be prepared to see the death of the wildebeest.

Our guide Proteus noticed her in the grass on the right as we slowly drove a road near a marsh around 9 AM. Do you see her towards the center right? She is not easy to spot hidden in the grass.  Linda is pointing the 500 mm lens right at her. She is the small tan figure under the arrow 50 yards across the marsh from us. Another vehicle in our group with Mike and Carole was just in front of us. The others in Group 1 were ballooning and we were to rendezvous with them at lunch.

This is a picture of Linda using the 500 mm lens to capture the next photos in our sequence. 

As we watched the lioness hunkered down in the grass and became difficult to see

This closeup makes it easier to spot her- the tan colored object in the lower center

She rose up when some zebra and wildebeest approached the marsh in front and to the left of our vehicle

They came close to her location because they wanted a drink. She initially put herself in this area
because she knew they would need some water.


As they came closer she kept her gaze on them

When they got within 50 yards they became alert and stopped. They could smell her but they could
not see her according to our guide.


The zebra beat a hasty retreat and ended that stalk before it even began

When they started running she came across the marsh for a better view, only to wach them in vein

There were two other lionesses still hiding in the marsh. She seemed to know where they were but
we could only catch an occasional glimpse of them.

She kept looking at the spot the zebra just left. This time some wildebeest
came closer, but they also smelled her and kept their distance.

After a few minutes she settled down and hid in the grass again and kept looking for prey

The other vehicle in our group decided nothing was going to happen and they went in search of another lioness they saw
in the distance. Too bad for them! Our patience was rewarded 30 minutes later when she stood up and saw something
behind us we did not see initially.

It was 3 wildebeest crossing the road 100 yards behind us. As she stared at them it became obvious she was getting ready to move after them. Our alert guide saw this and threw the land cruiser in reverse and told us to “hold on”. It was at this point that I pushed Linda out of the vehicle and took control of the camera and big lens. 

Events transpired rapidly at this point. She was on our right still and parallel to our car running at a rapid
stalk behind us. Our guide kept up with her as I captured this shot of her initial stalk.

We had to move fast so our vehicle was bouncing heavily. It was all I could do to hang on while trying to focus on her as her stalk increased in speed. As you can see I got more grass in my photo than lioness. This was one of the disadvantages of using a 500 mm lens in a bouncing vehicle.

I missed her completely on several shots

I was able to catch up with her periodically. Our guide was doing a great job staying with the lioness
without scaring the wildebeest and interfering with her hunt.

When I lost focus I had to play catch up. At this point I was just hoping to hang on to the lens so
it would not fall out of the vehicle and get damaged. I don’t think there are too many Canon service
centers in the Serengeti.

Once she locked onto the wildebeest she did not waiver in her gaze. Her muscular body is like a taut
spring ready to unwind. This is one of the most impressive parts of the whole hunt and causes goose bumps.

We were still moving backwards when she went from stalking to the explosive charge

With both of us moving so fast I still had a hard time focusing on her

You can see her in the background as she is pouncing on the wildebeest. Too bad I am focusing on
the grass in front.

Our car stopped moving just as she hit the wildebeest with full force. Now I was able to stay with her.

The high frame rate of my Canon 1D Mark III enabled me to capture a good bit of the action now
that we stopped moving

The momentum of her pounce rolled the wildebeest on its back as the lioness skidded in the opposite direction

She worked on holding the hapless animal as it kicked wildly in the air. You can see her claws
coming out as she tries to hold it down.

She rapidly moved toward the throat in order to keep it quiet (so no other predators could hear it
including other lions) and finish the kill by suffocation

She has the final death grip on the throat and now it is only a matter of a few minutes before the
wildebeest dies. Wewere told by numerous people that at this point, which is only 10 seconds
from the initial pounce, that the wildebeest is in a state of complete shock and feels little. 

At this point the wildebeest is dead and she is hanging on for good measure

She finally looks at us only 20 yards away

Apparently we were bothering her because she dragged it into the marsh and that’s the last we saw
of her or the wildebeest.

Our hat’s off to Proteus our guide for seeing her initially and moving the vehicle to the right position in the nick of time. Kudos to Linda and Joy for agreeing with me that we should be patient and stay with the lioness when she was just hiding in the grass and doing nothing.  Being familiar with my camera when there was no time to think or change settings was also important. If I had the time before our guide took off in reverse I would have put on my much lighter, and easier to use in a heavily bouncing vehicle, 400 mm lens instead of the bigger 500 mm. This unscripted nature makes wildlife photography quite a challenge and lots of fun. Joy, Linda, and yours truly were still shaking hours later after witnessing the keen instincts and power of this lioness.