Living in the Moment

November 14 – Morning Game Drive – Selinda

Before I start reliving November 14th (which was the penultimate day of the entire trip for us) I hope you will allow me a bit of a retrospective.  It has been just over a month since I last posted, and I came up with a ton of excuses for myself behind the delay.  In the last few weeks I have been grappling with some challenging news concerning two of my dearest friends and I am trying to get my arms around it all.  I went for a long walk in the “tundra” which is what Connecticut feels like in the winter when compared to summer in Botswana.  I saw a beautiful red-tail hawk soaring, a very confused blue bird who appeared as frustrated with the cold as I was, and three white-tailed deer loping through the snow.  In the midst of all this I found some coyote tracks and had a bit of fun determining that they were at least a day old because last night’s dusting of snow lay on top of the original tracks.  Anyway, I laughed that my training with Isaac in the sands of Africa can even be applied in frozen Connecticut.  At the end of my walk I wasn’t any closer to overcoming the sadness that I started my walk with, but I know that I had become that much more appreciative of life’s beauty, in all its forms and that includes its fragility… Ironically, our morning game drive on November 14th left me with the same message…

And fyi, there will be no more excuses.

My version of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is called “The Leopard, the Hyenas, the Baboons and the Lionesses” and while this was not Narnia, I found it just as magical.

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Great way to start the morning – Lisa Holzwarth

We were the first vehicle out, again, at 5:40am.  We headed right back to Leopard #3 that we had seen late yesterday.  She was only five minutes from camp and we discovered that she had made yet another kill – this time a reedbok.  No sooner had we spent some time photographing her, we saw two hyenas racing in our direction (really in the direction of the dead reedbok – they had no interest in us).   The leopard took cover in a nearby tree as the hyenas feasted on her fresh kill.  I have to admit that I am not an adoring fan of the hyena and have never found them particularly attractive, but I am quite pleased with these head-shots and think I may have captured a bit of their wild beauty.

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Hyena Headshots – Lisa Holzwarth

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No really, this is my best side – Lisa Holzwarth

We spent a bit of time with the hyenas as they devoured the reedbok and then turned our attention once again on the leopard in the dead tree.  In the midst of watching her we were surprised by her sudden decision to leave the tree and dive for deep cover.  We were a bit disappointed that she was now out of camera range but Isaac told us to keep our eyes open, as she must have seen something that scared her enough to move from the safety of her tree.  Remember, she was in a dead tree, so anyone or anything could easily see her from a distance.  From our vantage point, this still didn’t make a lot of sense – the leopard is the only big cat who climbs, and leopards usually find safety in trees… but then we heard the baboons!  There was a troop of 30-40 baboons heading in our general direction making a lot of noise (and fyi, baboons and leopards are deadly enemies – I have heard guides talk about adult male baboons and adult male leopards each fighting to the death).  The baboons settled on another “island” of trees a safe distance from the leopard.  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.  Isaac quickly drove us to the troop and said again, keep your eyes open, they are sounding the predator alarm.

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Up a tree with no place to go – Lisa Holzwarth

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Waiting at the bottom of the same tree, with all the time in the world – Lisa Holzwarth

No sooner had he said this, two lionesses came out of the tall grass and rushed the baboons in the trees, only to be joined by two more lionesses.   Between the baboons shrieking and the lionesses communicating with deep guttural roars, it was a mad scene.  The baboons were safe in the trees but still were anxious about the lions clawing on the trunks.  Evan and Isaac felt certain that with all the bedlam, someone was going to lose their cool and do something stupid and it wasn’t long before three of the baboons decided to “make a run for it”.   The three were focused on another set of trees a few hundred yards away.  As soon as the lionesses noticed the escapees, a chase pursued and we followed close behind.  Two of the three found the nearby treetops, but the third was grabbed as it tried scaling the tree.  Did I say three baboons – my mistake, 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.  Despite its young age, I was amazed to see how instinct so quickly kicked in that it immediately tried to find safety in a tree.  Unfortunately it did not know how to do this quickly or quietly.  While its instinct was good, it hadn’t yet mastered speed or agility.  At this point the lionesses noticed the “little guy”.  They were obviously intrigued, but did not go for the “kill” which would have taken less than a nano-second if they had been so inclined.  The baby and one of the lionesses engaged in the African version of BIG cat and mouse game which we have watched countless numbers of times with our own domestic cats and their catches of mice, moles and chipmunks.  The baby was jumping up and down screaming and hitting the lioness on her nose.  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 carried the baby in its mouth (really at that moment she could have swallowed it whole without a blink of an eye) and put it down on the ground in front of her.  What happened next blew our minds – the baby, in another instinctual moment, held onto the lioness’ chest and tries to suckle… Evan’s pictures say it all.  (As for my pictures, I had pulled a typical amateur move and had forgotten to recheck my settings when this whirlwind of action occurred so a lot of my pics are overexposed until I had a moment of clarity and made the appropriate adjustments.)

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Photography by Evan Schiller

 

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Photography by Evan Schiller

Photography by Evan Schiller

Photography by Evan Schiller

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Photography by Evan Schiller

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Photography by Evan Schiller

I should clarify that while I said the lioness was being “gentle”, she was being as gentle as a 350 pound cat can be with a 3 or 4 pound baby baboon.  The baby was showing signs of physical harm and fatigue from the whole ordeal.  After allowing the baby to “suckle” for a bit, the lioness again picked the baby up in her mouth – I was in agony watching the baby’s ordeal – and kept on turning off the video option on my camera because I it was hard to record.

Saved by the bell (of sorts)…  just at that moment when we thought the baby’s odds were dwindling, the lioness was distracted – this time by two male lions.  Enter stage right the two brothers we had photographed the previous morning.  We initially thought (as did the lionesses) that the boys were interested in the dead baboon (which no one had paid much attention to since its killing).  The big boys made a half-hearted attempt to check out the dead baboon, but we ultimately figured out that they were much more interested in “checking-out” the ladies themselves.  Evan caught a couple of great shots where the lionesses made it very clear how they felt about the boys – NOT.

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Photography by Evan Schiller

Back to the baby baboon – 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.  Unfortunately, he chose a dead tree, so while that was good for our photography, he soon felt the heat of the sun.  I was touched by how gently the Father Baboon held this little baby who was in tough shape after its ordeal.  The baby’s body appeared limp and we thought it had succumbed.  Isaac told us that if that was the case, the Father would most likely still hold the baby for a few days before finally letting go.  After watching these human-like emotions and actions, it’s pretty hard to doubt Mr. Darwin and his theories.

Photography by Evan Schiler

Photography by Evan Schiler

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Loving Arms – Lisa Holzwarth

With the heat of the morning sun getting stronger by the minute, the Father Baboon had to make a move.  Holding the baby, in all sorts of contorted positions, he tried numerous times to climb down the tree.  He tested the lionesses’ interest with each descent.  Finally, the combination of daring courage and the lionesses own desire to take cover in some shade allowed him to find safety and a little peace in the shade of a neighboring tree.

And what happened to the baby?  I like to think that the little guy survived with the help of his troop.  He was alive and safe in his father’s arms when we left and that’s how I like to remember it.  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.

And all of this happened in two and a half hours….

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21 thoughts on “Living in the Moment

  1. edholzwarth

    Wow – what an amazing moment to witness! I would have been afraid to keep watching… How lucky that you stayed through the happy ending!

    Ed

    Reply
  2. BARBARA BUCKANAVAGE

    Lisa, That was so interesting! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Your photos are beautiful! I’m sorry about your friends. You’re in my thoughts and prayers. Can’t wait for your next post. Barbara

    Reply
  3. Marie Reidman

    Just read this one again since my January reading when you first posted. I’m with you…picturing that little baboon a few months older now is what I choose to believe. Also, thinking about that beautiful, gentle lioness who could have ended the baby’s life so quickly, but chose to protect her instead shows a prevailing humanity in the world and on the plains. xo

    Reply
    1. laholzwarth Post author

      Thanks for the reblog. Glad to find another Big Cat supporter – they need all the help they can get and they need it now. Thanks again for your efforts.

      Reply
    1. laholzwarth Post author

      You are most welcome. Really, what a day it was. Still brings back goosebumps thinking about it. Our guide said that in the 18 years of guiding HE had never experienced a morning like that. We were incredibly fortunate.

      Reply
    1. laholzwarth Post author

      Thanks very much. I am fortunate that my husband, a professional photographer, is there getting the best shots, but occasionally I catch one too. I love the writing and Big Cats are our passion. We need to start getting the world to understand that how endangered so many of these species are and that without conscious change, we will lose them.

      Reply
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  6. Pingback: Incredible moment lioness spares baby baboon after killing his mother and gently NUZZLES it… before the tiny creature is plucked to safety by his brave father - Good news - Bh words

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  9. Judith Ancer

    I have just found your blog and I love how you weave your experiences with the photos. But this story of the lioness and the baby baboon is so powerful. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. laholzwarth Post author

      Thanks Judith. That day was absolutely incredible. Our guide, Isaac Seredile, who has over 18 years experience in the bush said he had never witnessed anything like this. Truly extraordinary and we feel very fortunate to have been there.

      Reply
  10. Pingback: Lioness Kills Baboon, Finds A Baby Clinging To Her Kill, Does Something Unbelievable | World News

    1. laholzwarth Post author

      Evan and I have been thrilled that so many news agencies have picked up on this story and that it has had such extraordinary circulation around the world. Unfortunately, a number of agencies have put their own “spin” on the story based on the pictures. If you go back and read my blog post which was written in January 2012 you will get the most accurate account of what occurred on that incredible morning. Bottom-line, we do not believe that the lioness was in any way “protecting” the baby baboon, but she was definitely intrigued by the little creature. While she could have chosen to kill it instantly, she did not. The baby baboon was still pretty banged up and traumatized in the ordeal. Ultimately the arrival of some male lions distracted the lioness, providing a brief window for the baboon lead male to rescue the baby. Thanks again for your interest.

      Reply

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