Sunday, 25 May 2014

Lions vs Giraffe - The Finale

We come to the final chapter in this dramatic moment of natural history.
If you've been following this tale closely - I thank you for sticking it out...
If you've been blissfully unaware and this is your first glance of this story, then please do get up to speed by reading PART 1 and PART 2  before continuing (a cup of coffee would be needed).

The old bull was clearly feeling the weight of the two male lions gripping his hind legs like steel. He was shuffling and shaking to try and break free from their lethal grip.
He was fighting valiantly, even though he was intensely tired and worn down.

And then, a mere 30 seconds after the first lion got a proper grip, he tumbled to the ground, a fallen giant, a defeated warrior, a vanquished fortress. 

(You don't have to worry about seeing gory photos, I posted photos without blood in this post!)



Nikon D800  |  Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II  |  f4.0  |  1/250 SS  |   ISO-1800

I was taken aback - I had really thought that more of the pride members would be needed and they would be jumping into the fray by now. Not even the third young male was getting involved - and the rest of the pride was not even on the scene as I was viewing it. Yet, no sooner did he fall, and the pride suddenly appeared (they must have been waiting patiently in the bushes, all non-committal for some reason). The third male now made himself useful by going for the jugular of the giraffe immediately. It was over in a matter of a minute. The old guy didn't even struggle upon hitting the ground - relenting to his fate as it were.





And so, suddenly it was very quiet. Not just in front of me at the scene of the crime, but also in my head and heart. No more frantic camera setting decisions. No more wondering if this was actually going to play out to the end. Just a reverence and awe for the raw power of nature, the natural struggle and fight for survival that these creatures endure day after day - the dance of life and death. Sometimes, the prey has the best moves and gets away, leaving the predator hungry and desperate. At other times, the predator outmaneuvers the prey and sustenance is obtained by the sacrifice of another. Yet every time, it is something that leaves us reeling, reflective, and at odds with ourselves. It's a strange duality of the life of a wildlife photographer - finding joy and adrenaline at the chance of photographing these things, but also finding sadness and empathy with the victim (whether that's the fallen prey or the disappointed predator left hungry again). 

This duality makes it what it is:
a drama
a tragedy
a celebration
a mourning
a necessity...

I think often the reaction of wildlife photographers to getting shots like this gets misconstrued as glee or sadistic tendencies by the general public, when it's in fact the adrenaline and excitement of the age-old battle that excites us, not the actual kill. I think I would have been just as affected whether the giraffe fell or shook off his attackers. When the prey falls, we feel sorry for it, but glad for the predators who get to live another day. When the prey gets away, we feel glad for it but sorry for the predators who may go without a meal for perhaps the umpteenth time that week...


Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f4.0  |  1/250 SS  |   ISO-1600

The rest of the pride were suddenly popping up as if they were part of the action the whole time. Confirming my suspicions that they had taken turns in running this old giraffe ragged all through the night, very few of them had the intention of tucking into their meal immediately. They all needed a rest, a moment of respite. But none more so than this female, who very poignantly sought a pillow for her head and ended up using the neck of her quarry for a moment's shut-eye. Yet, if taken as a snapshot in time, this moment can almost seem as if the predator is in fact taking a moment of silence and respect for her prey...paying thanks for being able to live a bit longer thanks to the sacrifice of this old and weary warrior that fell. 


Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f5.6  |  1/320 SS  |   ISO-2000
Here's a photo showing even more of the pride members "paying their respects" as it were...

Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f11  |  1/125 SS  |   ISO-2500


Lions have an interesting relationship with their prey. I showed this behaviour in my story about lions in the Kgalagadi taking down a young eland as well (you can read it HERE) - they usually tend to end up playing with their pray a bit before devouring it.


Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II  |  f8.0  |  1/320 SS  |   ISO-1100

 This guy was trying to figure out what the tail bush of the giraffe is for...




By the time they really got stuck into the giraffe, a couple of other vehicles had arrived, some from Namutoni and some from the lodges outside the Namutoni park gate. I decided that I would make way for them, and that I wouldn't get better photos than I already have with the light becoming harsh and the sighting becoming crowded. I had this memorable event all to myself for the most part of the crucial action. I could have had my wife with me, and a couple we'd met in Etosha on this trip who we'd become friends with - the Cunninghams - who are also keen wildlife photographers. My wife wasn't there because she chose to sleep in, given that our two young kids were also having an unusually drowsy morning I wouldn't blame her, she worked hard in playing with them in the back of the SUV while I drove around and stuck my lenses out the window. Our friends the Cunninhams, well their alarm wasn't set properly, and they literally arrived minutes after the giraffe was down. What's the lesson? No matter what - get up early and head out of the gate first when on safari!

I think I will conclude this story here. I hope that you could, like me, achieve a deeper understanding and appreciation for the complex relationship between predator and prey, and the delicate balance of the circle of life in the African bush. Viewing this first hand, taking a few photos and reflecting on it now, certainly has had that effect on me. Yes, from a photographic viewpoint I wish that more lions got involved, that they would have jumped on the giraffe's back and neck in dramatic fashion, and that the giraffe would perhaps have shaken them off and landed a kick or two, sending them flying - regardless of the outcome of his life. But I know I witnessed something very rarely seen from start to finish in the bush - and many of my friends who are full-time guides living and working in the bush for years on a day-to-day basis would attest to that. 

Having these experiences leaves one richer and makes you feel privileged to be a child of Africa...who knows how long we will have the chance of witnessing these struggles with the way things are changing on our continent???




What are your thoughts upon reading and seeing this story in word and photo? Feel free to drop me some of your musings in the comments below, I would love to hear from you.

Morkel Erasmus

38 comments:

  1. A fascinating encounter & as you say, a rarity. You tell the story so beautifully with respect to both prey & predators. Your photo's, as always, are magnificent. I swayed between many mixed emotions as the story unfolded. I personally would find it hard to witness the whole scene from start to end & have only ever seen & photographed the "aftermath" of kills. It is the circle of life, a reality & a necessity. We are so privileged to live in Africa & be able to witness & capture such moments & our magnificent wildlife in general.

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  2. Morkel. Great encounter.

    I think a lot of people come to Africa hoping to see a kill of this nature but once you have seen the act itself, you are never really prepared for it. It is survival of the fittest and this time the lions come out victors. Thank you for an amazing read. Maybe one day I will be able to experience this myself, but we don't know what will happen in Africa over the next couple of years.

    Thank you

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    1. Thanks Timbo for your great comment.

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  3. The finale of a magical sequence of events captured Morkel. Brilliant as usual.

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  4. Thank for your fascination report! That's the circle of life.... What really makes me sad? If I have to drive behind a truck crowded with pigs, chickens, sheep, cows or horses, which is on the way to the slaughterhouse...

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  5. Thank for sharing this fantastic encounter.The giraffe was indeed a valiant fighter until the end and I respect the lions for their determination.It is sad but also wonderful .

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    1. Thanks a lot for your time and comment.

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  6. All I need to say is, great story, even greater photos, and you are absolutely right, one needs to be an early riser while on a Safari.

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  7. Fantastic end, my friend, and what a sighting. Was worth the wait from when you told me about it. Its prize winning stuff really. You should submit it as a series to UK newspapers.

    I understand why you spared the more sensitive (and naive) types the so called, blood and gore, but maybe one or two at the end would end the story. ;-)

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    1. You are too kind, Wayne - thanks for your continued support of my posts :)

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  8. I really enjoyed the story and the way you presented it. Of course the photos are incredible but it's your words that really make it! They show the importance of life and death, yet treat it with sensitivity at the same time. Beautifully done. Thanks for sharing it!
    Nikki

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  9. Thank you for the story. It was a great read. I can relate to get up and go on a drive. We were at a conference in Chobe. All of us went to bed rather late on our last night. Actually very late. Most of my colleagues decided to sleep in and couple of us decided to go on the early morning game drive. It really took me some time to convince myself to go. What a wise decision. We spend some time with 2 lionesses and 2 cubs. Just as we decided to leave, a herd of buffaloes arrived at the scene. These 2 lionesses attacked and cornered 1 of the bulls. A 15 minute fight broke out and eventually the bull manage to over power the 2 lionesses. I took about 500 photos of this tussle. When you in the bush anything can happen. Once I overslept as well and did not hear the alarm. I left camp at about 7h30 in the morning, furious with myself. But 2km outside the camp, I saw one of my best leopard sightings ever.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Jacques. Sounds like you had a great time in the Chobe, it's always great to have a special sighting when you almost didn't go out :)

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  10. Basil Dardagan26 May 2014 13:13

    Truly moved

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    1. Thanks again, Basil - glad you liked it!

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  11. thank you I enjoyed the story and the photos and the lions got a good meal in the end !

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  12. Thank you for that dramatic story, this is real nature. Thank you so much Morkel.......

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  13. All three of your write-ups on this are very moving & tragic. I felt so sad for the giraffe in that he just had no fight left in him & yes, had he been younger & not as you say "possibly tormented" during the dark hours, had the energy to fight/kick them off it would have made for much excitement, but somehow seeing something as graceful as the giraffe taken down like this is tragic. Thank you for these pictures today, which I feel are very moving. We don't need the gore to get "excited". So thank you Morkel for sharing these moments with us. It must be hard for you to have to please guests to sit at kills and wonder, as I am sure you do, of how the prey felt or fought before he succumbed. :'(

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    1. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment, Wendy.

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  14. Thanks for the story and your reflections on what you witnessed.

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  15. Thanks for sharing these awesome images Morkel.
    I have a 10 day trip lined up for Etosha in October- so looking forward to it!!
    with the high ISOs you were using did you experience excessive noise?

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    1. Hi Ed. You are going to enjoy your trip, I think October would be one of the best times to visit Etosha...
      I am not scared to push my cameras to high ISOs to get the photos. The D800 and D3s that I use handle high ISO settings very well.

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  16. Somewhat sad in how it ended but that is life. The lions have to eat too. Very well told story with respect to both. The image of the lioness sleeping on the neck of the giraffe is very powerful. Thanks for sharing this story.

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    1. It's my pleasure, Shelly. Thanks for your comment.

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  17. Wow, these are incredible... What a privilege to witness such a scene! Did you shoot from inside a vehicle? Or is it safe enough that you can step out?

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    1. I was inside my vehicle, yes. I doubt that I would want to step out amid lions killing a giraffe. :)

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  18. Great stuff Morkel! ... your wordsmithing is as good as your lens work :)

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    1. Your kind compliment is appreciated, Brett!

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  19. Your words and photos evoke a nervous excitement, and a knowing heartbreak...i am in awe of the circle of life...a feeling I never want to lose

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