During a recent film shoot at Mashatu Game Reserve in the south-eastern corner of Botswana, we decided to go and visit the underground photographic hide to get some low angle and close-up images and footage of elephants drinking, but also of various other mammal and bird species visiting the waterhole. Ideally you need to be in the hide just before sunrise, so we left Main Camp at 6 a.m., as it takes about 25 minutes to drive there.

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THE PRIDE OF LIONS ON APPROACH AFTER THEIR UNSUCCESSFUL HUNT.

Just as we crossed the dry Motobole river, about 1km from the hide, I spotted a herd of eland (large antelope) nervously running away from something and the backside of a stalking lioness caught my eye. We drove closer to the action and got into position as quick as we can, as capturing a kill on film is something every wildlife cameraman would like to add to his showreel.

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ONE OF THE SUB-ADULT MALES LOOKING BACK AT THE REST OF HIS PRIDE.

The herd of eland got away and the pride of 9 lions (2 lionesses and 7 sub-adults) regrouped, slowly walking east, straight towards us. After 5 minutes they reached the dry river bed of the Motobole and the adults decided it’s time for a short break.

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ONE OF THE LIONESSES HAVING A REST ON THE DARK RIVER SAND OF THE MOTOBOLE RIVER.

The sub-adults, having a lot more energy than their mothers, decided its playtime and started stalking each other and chase each other in-and-around the riverbed, having a great time.

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THE SUB-ADULTS HAVING A GREAT TIME PLAYING ON THE SOFT SAND.

The break didn’t last long and the lionesses lead the way, heading south east, in the direction of the hide. In the back of my mind I realized that there’s a small possibility of them visiting Moddergat, the small waterhole where the hide is situated. I didn’t want to leave the lions yet to go to the hide, as there was a herd of impala, plains zebra and blue wildebeest between them and the hide….a second chance of maybe filming a kill.

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THE PRIDE CONTINUED TO TIP-TOE THROUGH THE BUSH SCANNING FOR POTENTIAL PREY.

The pride tip-toed closer to their prey, peaking around the stunted Mopani trees, but with it being daylight and with so many eyes and ears around, their cover was soon blown by the alarm calls of impala.

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ONE OF THE PRIDE MEMBERS PEEKING AROUND THE MOPANI TREES AT A HERD OF IMPALA.

When the lions realized that they had no chance they continued on their way, now only about 400m away from the hide. We decided it’s now or never and took the chance of leaving them and driving ahead to get set-up inside the hide for in case they decide to visit. We waited in anticipation and it was not more than 15 minutes after we arrived that we noticed the first lioness approaching from the right. She stopped 30 meters away and scanned the area for possible prey and continued on her way when the “coast was clear”….the rest of the pride followed suit.

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ONE OF THE SUB-ADULTS WALKING STRAIGHT TOWARDS US INSIDE THE HIDE!

When they got to about 10 meters from the waterhole they noticed us inside the hide and stared straight into our lenses, we kept on filming as this was only the second time that lions visited the hide when there was someone inside.

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THE LIONESS WASN’T TOO SURE OF WHAT TO MAKE OF US LOOKING AT HER THROUGH OUR LENSES.

What makes this hide so special is that it is actually sinked into the ground and when sitting inside you view the animals from ground level, a fantastic point of view for any photographer or cameraman. Read more about the underground photographic hide at www.c4photohides.com.

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THE WHOLE PRIDE PASSED IN FRONT OF THE HIDE…..CAUTIOUSLY KEEPING AN EYE ON US.

Some of the sub-adults, of course being very inquisitive, started approaching us to get a better look….I’m sure they must have heard my heart beating in my chest. The feeling of having a wild lion 3 meters away from you and look you straight in the eye is definitely an adrenalin rush!

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THIS SUB-ADULT WAS VERY CURIOUS AND CAME TO WITHIN 5 METERS OF US INSIDE THE HIDE.

Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for some, lions also have a natural fear for humans, and with them not too sure about what we were up to in the hide, they decided not to drink. The pride disappeared into the bush just as quick as what they arrived and the whole experience was over in a flash. I’ve spent a lot of hours working in the African bush, but this “up close and personal” lion encounter was definitely one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

“One life, photograph it!!!”
Till next time,

Wim.