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Legendary Photos: The Stories Behind 7 of Art Wolfe’s Iconic Images

Nature photographer discusses his classic shots

Photo of a lion and cub by Art Wolfe

African lion and cub (Panthera leo), Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

My first trip to East Africa was in the early 1980s. We camped in the Ngorongoro Crater, and I remember being terrified as we listened to lions pad through our campsite at night. All I could think of was the flimsiness of the tent separating me from that consummate predator. Since that sleepless night I have photographed scores of lions on numerous trips to various African nations.

Lions are excellent subjects for photography, illustrating so many different concepts: regal-ness, power, and tenderness. They are very visible and prefer open land, so they are relatively easy to spot. They are gregarious, social cats — a unique trait among felines. While male lions appear to have the life of leisure, they defend the pride and guard its territory. Males tend to be tolerant of cubs in their pride since they undoubtedly fathered them, but the sad fact is that many cubs die due to attacks by adult lions. This young cub decided to try and get the attention of this older male. But, no matter how much the cub teased, the older male never budged.

This image appeared in my book The Living Wild, published in 2000. Like so many species, lions have slipped on to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s vulnerable species list. With the advent of firearms, the extermination of wildlife began in earnest. As the great antelope herds disappeared so did the cats that followed them. In places where they are not hunted such as Africa’s national parks, lions are conspicuous and fearless, and drawn to tourist vehicles; elsewhere, they become invisible by staying quietly nocturnal.

I shot this with the Canon EOS-1N/RS and EF 70-200mm lens at f/4 for 1/60 second on Fujichrome Velvia film.


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