Lions are the past-masters when it comes to both standing out and blending in – this week’s photo challenge from Ann-Christine at Lens-Artists, which sent me rifling through the old Africa Album for some good examples. These were all taken in Kenya’s Maasai Mara back in another lifetime. The header shot shows both leonine proclivities – the art of showing off and of disappearing in foot-high oat grass. I think there are at least three lions in this shot. In the following close up you can see one of them – just right of the lioness’s left ear. Probably a male.
But what about this next shot – can you spot the second lion? Course you can, now you know what to look for:
And here’s a different kind of concealment – the whole pride in a gully; their concentrated gaze suggesting thoughts of dinner and where they might find it.
Lens-Artists: Blending in or standing out
Just before sunrise outside the Maasai Mara Reserve. These lionesses had eaten well during the night, but now as day dawned the hyenas were moving in to take what remained of the kill. More of this story and photos at Hyena Heist in the Mara HERE.
Thursday’s Special: The Blue Hour
We came upon the Maasai Mara’s famous Marsh Pride on a morning game drive out from Mara River Camp. It was August – as close to winter as Kenya gets – the skies leaden, the plains parched and dusty, the whole place waiting for the short rains that will not be happening for another two months; and perhaps not at all. In fact this trip had started out from Nairobi in thick fog, and descending the Great Rift escarpment was even more hair-raising exciting than usual.
But to get back to the lions. The pride was resting up in home territory, most of its members – mothers and cubs – scarcely visible in the grass. For one thing they were the same colour as the vegetation. For another, it is what lions do – disappear in twelve inches of grass.
As we drove nearer we spotted this male. He was pacing through the grass, roaring. This was answered by another male some distance away. It seemed they were busy marking out their patch. They ignored us anyway, which was comforting, though I have to say that lion-roars, especially ones at close quarters, make your spine resonate, and not in a good way.
Another hair-raising exciting moment then.
We watched them for a while from the safety of the safari truck, then left them to it, the roars following us down the track. By which time we were wondering if we were really there at all. Out in the African wilds it mostly feels like dreaming.
Profile: Panthera Leo
Simba in KiSwahili
Weight: Males 420-500 lb/110-135 kg
Length: Males 5-7 ft/2.5-2 m
Lifespan: Males 12 years
Thursdays Special: Profile
Please visit Paula to see her fantabulous shot of a snowy owl.
It’s as if the East African landscape only becomes itself at sundown and sunrise; is only visible to us humans in steeply angled light. It reminds me of the magic painting books I had as a child: nothing but white pages, the images barely descried, a palimpsest of silvery lines. All is blank then; staringly dull. But take a pot of water, and ply a paint brush across the page, and all springs astonishingly to life. Everywhere bursting in colour.
Out in the bush the wild life anyway lies low during the midday hours. And even if you could see them, the equatorial sun flattens the vista. You lose a sense of scale and distance. Even a magnificent eland spotted in the Great Rift at noon can look strangely unimpressive. Just a big antelope then.
Kenya’s game parks and reserves are vast – hundreds of square miles. The animals are not fenced in although, increasingly along the borders, farming (large and small scale) encroaches on grazing grounds and migration routes. But this lack of containment means you can drive around a game reserve for hour after hour and see nothing but thorn scrub; or the retreating rear end of a warthog if you’re very lucky.
But then the sun begins to set, and you are out with a local driver-guide who knows where to look; and the light turns rose-gold, and the land puts on its best colours. And what was distant, and unfocused takes on form and clarity. Out of mind-numbing absence, and hours of searching, emerges this big-cat presence…
Of course they were there all along. Only now they let us see them. Apart, that is, from the big male who is still hiding in the grass behind his mate. It’s another piece of bush magic, how a 500-pound big cat can disappear in twelve inches of grass. Can you spot him?
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
Ailsa’s travel theme: luminous
First off I should say these aren’t the best of photos. They were taken on a dullish, August day in the Maasai Mara, and out of the back of a dusty Land Rover. But it’s a nice little glimpse of ‘I’m-a-big-boy-now’ rebellion of the lion kind.
It was the she-lion’s odd behaviour that attracted our attention. We drove towards the swamp to see what was going on. The rest of the Marsh Pride was lying up in the long grass a good half mile away, but here was a lone adult female walking about in a distracted manner, and with no attempt at concealment. She was also calling…and looking…
We drove around the swamp. And then we could see what she couldn’t…
Junior. He, in fine nonchalant style, was busy exploring. He could hear Mom all right, but he was darned if he would show himself. In fact he just kept going…
…in the opposite direction…
Ooops! Not looking where we were going…
But it gave him a good excuse: “Was just getting a drink of water, Mom.”
We left them to find one another, although I reckon Junior was in for a big cuff round the ears. Meanwhile, here’s the big lion, he was thinking he already was – Dad.
This post was inspired, somewhat tangentially, by Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: wet Drop in to her blog to see other bloggers’ responses.
Before the storm we fall in with lion –
six scions out from the pride.
Unmaned, cub-spotted, they slump amongst thorns,
smug in their big-cat skins.
They know we’re here.
So now we’re adrift on the storm’s swell:
coming like lambs to lay down with lions?
Caught in their lure we listen to their breathing;
the rise and fall of soft flanks.
Our breath marks time.
Waiting – till a drift of rainfall stirs them.
Watching – till they they rise to make their kill.
copyright 2015 Tish Farrell
Jennifer Nichole Wells: OWPC Storm
Related: …of Maasailand a travel piece that was long-listed in the Brandt Travel Guide writing contest 2000
Ailsa’s ‘environment’ challenge at Where’s My Backpack
First light on the Mara plains, and the Marsh Pride lionesses have eaten well. In the night they have killed a giraffe and are resting up near the remains of the carcase. The peace doesn’t last though. And it isn’t us who are bothering them.
Other predators are moving in on the leftovers. First a black-backed jackal comes trotting by, watches hopefully from the side-lines. Her chances are looking slim…
…already the heavy mob are moving in – a pack of spotted hyenas.
As I said in an earlier post, hyenas do not only scavenge, they are powerful hunters with jaws like demolition-crushers. And despite their lop-sided gait, their feet with blunt, non-retractable claws, are well adapted for the long-distance chase. They can take down a wildebeest and eat and digest the lot (apart from horns and rumen) within 24 hours. They will also eat anything, including the faces of sleeping humans caught out without sufficient night-time protection. This was a commonly reported horror while we lived in Kenya. In consequence they are East Africa’s most successful large predator, apart from politicians, that is.
Here, one of the pack has made a rush on the kill and escaped with some leg bones, but it doesn’t look as if sharing is on the hyenas’ menu.
The lionesses go on watching, alert in that laid-back kind of way that cats do so well. The remnants are not worth fighting over. When the time comes, and bellies are empty, they will make another kill.
FLICKR COMMENTS ‘H’ WORDS for more bloggers’ stories
copyright 2014 Tish Farrell
It is late afternoon when Daniel, our guide, takes us to the rock-strewn place where he knows the lions will be.
The males are hiding away in longer grass, but the females and cubs are out in the open, enjoying the last of the sun. The light is spectacular. I wonder if the lionesses have chosen this place on purpose: because their young blend in so well with the landscape. In any event, they seem utterly relaxed. This mother (above) simply watches us as she feeds one of her cubs. There is another at her tail, disguised as a boulder, while the third one takes off on a small adventure.
The quiet proximity of these lionesses is breath-taking, our intrusion on their family life above their notice. We watch them until the sun goes down and it is time to return to our camp on the Mara River.
Ailsa’s travel challenge: meeting places
Go here for Ailsa’s and other bloggers’ meeting places. Meanwhile, here are a few that caught my eye:
Travel Tales of Life Cinque Terre: Meeting in an Italian Paradise
Third Person Travel