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Lion Fight Sequence

by Malcolm Bowling

While working as a game ranger in South Africa's Sabi Sand Game Reserve, adjacent to the world-renowned Kruger National Park, I was lucky enough to see, and photograph, a quite spectacular lion confrontation.

Lion territories frequently overlap and when lions from different prides bump into each other, there's always some form of interaction. We never knew what to expect on our game drives

In the area we traversed there were two lion prides whose territories did overlap to some extent. The larger pride, comprising 13 lions, included two brothers who were the dominant males within the pride. The male lion in the photographs is one of these brothers.

The second pride comprised five females - two older and three younger - and it's they who make up the remainder of the cast in the drama that we witnessed.

For some time we'd not seen one of the lionesses, but we knew she'd given birth to cubs in a hidden den site on an island in the Sand River. She would leave the cubs concealed for a night or so, while she ventured out to locate the rest of her pride in the hope of sharing their food. It was on one of these excursions that the following spectacle unfolded.

There had been some roaring back and forth between this female, the rest of her pride, and the big male. We had located the lions through their calling, wanting to see the female, ever hopeful of spotting her cubs.

The female was alone when we first saw her, moving quickly towards the rest of the pride. There is a strong bond between pride members, which is reaffirmed by sniffing, nose rubbing and body contact.

We watched this behaviour as the lone female joined the pride. While this was happening, the male stayed a little way off, lying down in the grass. The lone female then suddenly sat up, looked intently at the male and started towards him. One of the other females joined her.

I had positioned the vehicle with the best possible view for the meeting and the interaction between the male and females, with little idea it was going to be as dramatic as it was.

As I started shooting pictures, the sequence of events unfolded extremely fast in front of us. There was always going to be some kind of interaction - but the ferocity and intensity was beyond anything I anticipated.
Female lions ready to attack Female lions ready to take on male lion
Female lions attacking male, Sabi Sand Female lions attacking male, Sabi Sand Game Reserve
Female lions attacking male, Sabi Sand Female lions attacking male, Sabi Sand
Female lions attacking male lion, Sabi Sand Female lions attacking male, Sabi Sand Wildtuin
Female lions attacking male, Sabi Sand Game Reserve Lioness and male lion confrontation

I was completely stunned. It was one of those moments a photographer longs for - nobody can predict how events are going to unfold or to what degree, and then something like this happens in an incredible way.

Events in nature happen extremely fast, so I was fortunate enough to capture the sequence of approach, attack, and conclusion - which is unbelievable in itself. The intiguing episode simply reiterates that, as humans, we never know for sure what is going to happen. Speculate, yes, but actually know, never.

Please Note: Images and text are copyright Malcolm Bowling and may not reproduced without consent of the author. To view the entire lion fight sequence or to order prints of Malcolm's photographs and original artwork, please visit his galleries on malcolmbowling.imagekind.com and malcolm-bowling.artistwebsites.

Footnote: I'm sure others, like myself, will wonder why the big male lion doesn't respond more aggressively to an apparently unprovoked attack by the two lionesses. So I asked Malcolm for his opinion. Here's his reply:

"There has to be some speculation on my part as to why the male lion did not 'fight back' more aggressively. The male was more than likely the sire to the female's cubs and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The lioness was just irritated with him being there ... and it was a chain reaction regarding the other female attacking.

"I personally think that if the matter had been more serious, with possibility of injury, the male would have got stuck in rather than appearing more submissive. He is only there pretty much for one of two reasons - either food or mating."

For more about lions and lion behavior, please see Lion Information and Lion Facts.

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