What happens when you slap a huge lion on the nose?

The sequence proved exceptionally popular with the national press and was published by The Daily Mirror (in press and online), The Telegraph Online and The Daily Mail Online

As had long been the norm, the Large Marsh pride were enjoying their morning sun-bathing session, sprawled out on the parched silt. The pride male was sitting on a lofty grass-covered vantage point, again looking windswept, interesting and still so majestic. As our Land Cruiser came to a halt, he shook his great mane and stood up. Three young cubs laid on the cool damp sandy soil with their mother. One lion cub sat alone… watching.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)

Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and 200.0-400.0 mm f/4.0 lens at ¹⁄₆₄₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

Stretching out, the massive male lion then walked down the hillock to join his family. The cubs stared at him with a mixed look of trepidation and reverence, eyes on stalks. Their mother looked apprehensive, but gently approached the colossal male and nuzzled him. After deciding all was well, he flopped down in a giant heap and again the lioness nuzzled him in an overtly submissive way. All was quite. All was serene. The lion family soaked up the warm sun and we gazed and photographed them lounging around.

After a few minutes, the pride male rose, looked around, then walked directly over to the lion cub sitting alone. Anticipating what might be, I framed the shot with the lion cub to the left and waited for the huge male to enter the frame (stage right). As he approached the lion cub, the sense of scale became alarming. However, the comparatively tiny ball of fur didn’t seem the least bit alarmed. He simply looked up at the towering form and stared. All eyes, human and feline, were now fixed on the father and son.

The cub, rose up on its haunches and just batted the massive lion right on the nose. I had to laugh! Maybe nervously. Perhaps feeling the same sense of foreboding, the lioness approached the pride male and nuzzled her way under his chin. In a split second, the pugnacious cub snarled at daddy, the huge male snarled back, the lioness smacked him hard across the chops with a paw (no claws) and the male roared and smashed her back, with thudding force.

It was all over in just 9-frames – literally one second! After a few moments of snarling at one another, the parent’s aggression evaporated. The adults flopped on the ground and the smug little cub nuzzled into mum, perfectly relaxed, as if nothing had happened at all.

EndThank you for reading

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Photographic career began in 2002, freelancing as a commercial photographer. In 2005, I turned full-time 'wildlife pro', winning my first award and gaining agency contracts. Since then, I've travelled the world, photographing in the greatest wildlife hotspots.

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