When wildlife photographers Evan Schiller and Lisa Holzwarth went to northern Botswana‘s Selinda Camp on a safari, they knew what to expect. With their cameras ready, the photographers were ready to capture lion prides and other wild animals. But when they stumbled upon a troop of baboons, things got really intense!
Although they’ve been through countless such expeditions in Africa, they’ve never seen lions acting like this lioness…
Evan and Lisa love big cats and were ready to explore Botswana’s wilderness. The couple has founded LEO Chronicles, an organization that raises awareness for big cats that are endangered. This is why taking photos of the majestic creatures was part of their project.
For 16 days, Evan and Lisa would go around Botswana and photograph the big cats. They hired a local guide and saw incredible landscapes. Then, they reached the 320,000-acre Selinda Reserve and got to witness a breathtaking scene…
Lions are predators, there’s no denying that. So the photographers knew that they would see brutal scenes, but they didn’t expect to see an exchange between a lioness and a baby baboon. The photographs and footage they were able to take went viral!
The images Evan and Lisa were able to capture and their story was so incredible that it was featured on National Geographic. Their adventure started when the two saw around 40 baboons causing a ruckus.
Studies showed that when they want to be noticed, baboons can make a lot of noise. But this time, in the wild, these baboons were noisy because danger was approaching!
Evan and Lisa were watching leopards from afar when they began hearing the noises. Then, all of a sudden, around 30-40 baboons swarmed their car and ran past it, while screaming and screeching. They were running for their lives…
Neither of the two photographers noticed at first, but two lionesses were coming out of the tall grass and rushing at the baboons. Some of them made it to the trees, but one was unfortunate. The intense scenes were captured on the camera, but Lisa recalls she had a very tough time and nearly pressed on the stop button a few times.
Almost all baboons were safe from the two hungry lionesses. The couple couldn’t believe their eyes, they didn’t expect to be right in the middle of a showdown between the lionesses and the baboons. Then, they saw one of the baboons lagged behind, not being able to make it to the tree…
Watching in horror, Lisa could feel her stomach turning. A baboon met its untimely end as one lioness closed the gap between them. Satisfied with its prey in its mouth, the lioness settled with the catch. But as Lisa watched through the camera, she spotted something!
Hanging from the mother’s stomach, a baby baboon that looked as if it was no older than a month was still alive and confused. Then, the baby realized that what happened to his mother… “Between the baboons shrieking and the lionesses communicating with deep guttural roars, it was a mad scene,” Lisa said.
Frightened, the baby decided to make a run for it to the nearest tree where another baboon was waiting, probably his father. However, distressed and exhausted from the chase, the baby baboon was too slow for the lioness. Lisa closed her eyes, expecting the worse…
The lioness also noticed that there was a baby animal around, trying to run towards the safety provided by the tree and his father. Responsible for his mother death, the lioness stared at the baby as if it was confused and never seen a baby baboon before. So she approached it!
Although it was agonizing to watch, Lisa kept recording the scenes. “The baby was showing signs of physical harm and fatigue from the whole ordeal. The lioness picked the baby up in her mouth—it was in agony watching the baby’s ordeal—and I kept on turning off the video option on my camera because it was hard to record.”
The lioness watched the baby try to run up the tree, then approached and knocked him down. Then, she pushed it around, playing with it. A few moments passed and the lioness grew bored with its pret. Lisa and Evan were prepared to look away before seeing the scene they dreaded the most.
Meanwhile, up in the tree, the baboon father noticed his baby was still alive and tried his best to distract the lioness and save his child. However, his attempts didn’t work. The baby was no longer crying, but holding tight to the predator. That’s when the photographers noticed something they had never seen before!
Just by opening her mouth, the lioness could have ended the baby baboon, thought the photographer. Then, they were shocked! “What happened next blew our minds – the baby, in another instinctual moment, held onto the lioness’ chest and tried to suckle…” What did the lioness do next?
The lioness allowed the baby to suckle on her chest but soon she grew tired of sitting there. So, she picked up the baby baboon in her mouth without harming it and walked way. It was as if she was picking up one of her cubs!
Puzzled, the photographers saw the lioness being gentle with her prey. A little further in the bush, she settled down to get some rest. She cradled the baby between her paws and let it stay close to her.
Before deciding whether to play or eat her prey, she was interrupted by two lions that were slowly approaching her. The male lions were interested more in the lioness than the baby baboon. That’s when things get intense!
But the lioness didn’t know that from behind, another visitor was approaching! Causing so much noise, the lions distracted the lioness and that’s when the baboon father took his chance. He swooped in fast and grabbed his baby and went back up to the tree!
With as much speed as it could muster, the baboon father grabbed its baby and tried to escape the lioness. But the sun was intense in that barren landscape, so the father had to find shade as soon as possible…
“I was touched by how gently the father baboon held this little baby who was in tough shape after its ordeal,” said Lisa. She watched how the father made another run and finally got away when the lioness decided to go away and look for some water. Lisa will never forget this story…
Seeing these scenes, Lisa was inspired by the baboon father. “The young baboon remains an inspiration to me and a reminder, that life is fragile and no matter how much we fight to control its outcome, all we can do is live in the moment.”
As for the baby baboon, it survived that day although he lost his mother. A bit roughened up, he was still alive and safe in his father’s arms when the photographers left the reserve.
“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 – and a reminder, that life is fragile,” concluded Lisa in an interview with National Geographic.
The photographers didn’t know what would have happened if the lioness wouldn’t have been interrupted by the two lions. It appeared to show interest and compassion in the baby, but lucky for the baby baboon, we will never know her true intentions.
Whether the lioness’ motherly instinct kicked in and didn’t immediately kill the baby baboon or she was just playing with her prey, these scenes are proof that the animal kingdom is a place we don’t yet fully understand.