They say death is a part of life. Nature is cruel and vicious. And that could not be more true when you’re in the wilderness of Africa. Death surrounds you, from skulls and bones littering the ground to lion kills and cheetah chases. It can be thrilling but it grounds you in the reality of life, that we all die in the end. I’ve yet to hear of someone on safari who doesn’t have a moment of simply contemplating life.
Many photographers lean into this, creating amazing images of high-stakes chases and blood-stained mouths. But I’m not one of those photographers that goes for the gore, the action, the blood. I prefer to find the beauty, to focus on the pieces of nature that inspire peace and stillness, that call people to preserve the earth.
So when I’m out on a game drive, I’m less interested in the radio calls about a potential hunt, and much more interested in finding small quiet scenes. This morning I got lucky when someone spotted a male lion resting near a pond at sunrise. We raced to see him, arriving just in the nick of time.
As we approached, the colors in the sky were breathtaking. There were a few cars ahead of us, capturing their photographs from a head-on perspective with the sunrise to the lion’s left. The lighting was gorgeous and to be honest, I would be been happy to stay there and create that image. But my guide Bernard thought it would be better to go around and get the lion’s profile - a decision that I am so thankful we made. Wit the sun behind the lion and the reflections in the water, I suddenly had a much more powerful scene. The lion sat for just a moment, turned his head toward us. And then he left. We had just one minute with him and it was priceless.
This lion was one of two brothers that were working to expand their territory, coming a little too close to a pride that controlled this area. We had spent two mornings tracking them as they made their way further into the conservancy, calling softly to one another as they travelled, keeping tabs on one another in the vast landscape. They were pushing their luck, the guides said, and they would likely be chased away.
It was just one week later that we heard one of them had been killed in a fight with the rival pride. I may never know whether the one in this photograph was the victim, but knowing that I spent one of the last mornings with these two brothers was heart wrenching. Knowing the world had one less lion was frustrating, even if it came at the hands of nature and not humanity.
I love how this image allows you to just sit with this giant, the apex of the food chain, in a moment where he himself seems to be contemplating the sunrise. Sometimes we forget that predators kill other predators. Since we focus so much on saving these amazing creatures from human-inflicted harm, it can throw you for a moment to realize that sometimes these animals take each other out. That nature can be cruel even to the ones we are trying to save the most. It’s something I have spent a lot of time meditating on, remembering that nature has its ways. And death is a part of life.