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
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:
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
|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.