A Connecticut photographer has captured a thrilling encounter between a baby baboon and a 350lb lioness in a game park in Botswana.
The incredible pictures show the moment the baboon’s mother is killed, leaving the baby face-to-face with the roaring predator.
But instead of swallowing the tiny creature, a tender moment ensues where the baby baboon attempts to suckle the lioness and the big cat gently plays along.
However, in the fascinating display caught on camera, the little one is finally plucked to safety by his brave father.
Pro golfer-turned golf course photographer Evan Schiller took the spectacular shots in November while he and his wife Lisa Holzwarth were on a game drive in northern Botswana’s Selinda Camp. Holzwarth later wrote about the experience – the highlight of their trip – in a post on her blog, The LEO Chronicles. She explains how the big cat enthusiasts were watching a leopard when they noticed it becoming anxious.
That’s when a big troop of baboons – a staunch enemy of the leopard – came bounding through the bush making a racket. Then the baboons started screaming – again, we had no idea the reason, but from their elevated position in the trees they had a much better vantage point to take in the overall surroundings,’ Holzwarth wrote. She said it quickly became clear what the problem was: two large lionesses had emerged from the tall grass and rushed at the baboons. They were soon joined by two more lionesses.
Between the baboons shrieking and the lionesses communicating with deep guttural roars, it was a mad scene,’ Holzwarth recalled, adding that the lionesses were clawing at the trees making the baboons even more fearful. But then the real chaos began.
She describes in the blog how three baboons suddenly attempted to ‘make a run for it’ to another group of trees.
Two arrived unscathed but a third got snapped up in the jaws of a lioness. As the third baboon lay dying on the ground, we noticed a little baby (less than a month old) slowly disengaging from its mother’s dying body,’ she explained of the little cutie.
Despite its young age, the baby baboon’s instinct was to flee the danger and it immediately tried to find safety in a tree. Unfortunately it did not know how to do this quickly or quietly,’ she wrote. ‘While its instinct was good, it hadn’t yet mastered speed or agility.
At that point, the lionesses noticed the baby baboon.
However, they didn’t go in for the kill. Instead, they were intrigued, and one of the lionesses began playing ‘cat and mouse’ with the little one. The baby was jumping up and down screaming and hitting the lioness on her nose,’ Holzwarth recalled. ‘Meanwhile, the lioness was gently knocking the baby off the trunk of the tree every time it seemed to make a little bit of progress in its vertical attempt of escape.’
Finally, the lioness took the baby baboon into its mouth, gently, without crushing it, and put it down on the ground in front of her.
What happened next blew our minds,’ she wrote. ‘The baby, in another instinctual moment, held onto the lioness’ chest and tries to suckle… Evan’s pictures say it all.
After allowing the baby to ‘suckle’ for a while, the lioness again picked the baby up in her mouth. Holzwarth said she watched its ordeal in agony. But then the lionesses became distracted – by two male lions the tour group had spotted the previous day – giving the baboon’s father the opportunity to rescue the helpless infant.
With the lionesses busy trying to ward off the amorous advances of the brothers, the Big Male Baboon, which had been trying to no avail to rescue the baby all the while, was now able to climb down the tree, grab the baby and then head back up for safety,’ Holzwarth explained. She said the little guy was ‘alive and safe in his father’s arms’ when they left ‘and that’s how I like to remember it.’ She added that brave baby baboon remains an inspiration to her in her life.
No matter what, he remains an inspiration to me – and a reminder, that life is fragile and no matter how much I fight to control its outcome, I am at the mercy of the universe. All we can do is live in the moment.
Holzwarth says that their encounter with the lionesses was all the more precious because of the dwindling number of prides still living in Africa.
Panthera estimates that almost a century ago, there were 200,000 lions living in 54 countries across Africa, but now that number stands at fewer than 30,000 – and in 26 countries the species is extinct altogether.
Lions have disappeared from 80 per cent of their historic range due to illegal hunting, loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation. Just seven nations: Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, are believed possess more than 1,000 lions each. Leopard numbers too are falling fast, having disappeared from large parts of their historic ranges in Africa and Asia. To donate money to big cats in Africa go to Panthera or National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative.