I have just returned from a two-week photographic safari in Kenya and Tanzania—both beautiful countries with amazing animals. Over the next few weeks, I will share a few of my photos along side some of the big cat art in the Caticons collection which we could not share in Caticons due to space constraints.
Not surprising, I found the BIG cats most intriguing. Of the three that I saw, lions, leopards, and cheetahs, the lions were definitely the most prevalent, the least shy, and the most fun to watch. While the leopards which I understand are more nocturnal, were found lounging in trees or on rock outcroppings called kopjes and the cheetahs were just plain hard to see due to their gorgeous camouflage coloring, the lions roamed everywhere completely unfazed by our presence. It was a privilege to see them in their nature habitat sleeping, eating, walking, interacting, and feeding their cubs.
According to our wonderful Tanzanian guides Olee and Richard, lions and lionesses (which do most of the work!) expend so much energy catching prey that they are often found resting in the grass near water sources, their favorite hunting grounds. Their sleeping poses amused me to no end because they are SO cat-like. Who knew that lions, like house cats, sleep on their backs with their paws in the air! Here is a photo I took in the Ngorongoro Crater of a whole pride sound asleep.
We also spent time observing lionesses in the vast plains of the Serengeti. On one of the game drives, we encountered a lioness along the road alertly watching over her shoulder for the arrival of another lioness off in the distance, her vigilant stance alerting us as well to the impending meeting which we weren’t sure would be a friendly one. However, rather than fighting, the two lionesses greeted each other with a nuzzle and then settled down to relax together under a tree, as seen below. It was absolutely fascinating to witness this family dynamic.
Regal lions figure prominently in both fine and decorative arts. Antoine Louis Barye, the founder of the Animalier movement in 19th Century France, featured a lion in one of his first sculptures exhibited at the Paris Salon and went on to sculpt many other exotic animals. Prior to this time, animals were not considered worthy of artistic expression.
While much of Barye’s work depicts animals in mortal combat, the work below, after Barye, features a lioness gently carrying her cub in her mouth, in the same fashion as domestic cats! Similar in theme, Victor Peter’s “A Lioness with Her Cubs” shows a lioness surrounded by her offspring, one of which peers curiously over her back. Both works are testaments to the lioness’s maternal instinct and strong family structure.