Lions are without a doubt one of the most wished-for species during any African safari. This trip came up with the goods in spectacular style on more than one occasion, and we were immensely fortunate to spend time with a mating pair. It’s a sight that’s seldom seen first-hand, and our timing was perfect. We witnessed scenes that are rarely experienced, in perfect light, giving us superb photographic opportunities of this very memorable encounter.

Leaving camp early one morning, we came across several scattered prides of lions. The third pride in particular caught our attention – we noticed a large male next to a female, obviously mating, or about to begin. The mating phase usually lasts a week to ten days on average before the cycle is complete. Its abrupt end comes with the sudden change in the lioness’s demeanour, from extremely flirty and receptive, to aggressive snarling and growling. This about-face is bewildering for the male lion, as she switches from openly inviting him to mate, to downright hostile harassment in a remarkably short time, causing him to abandon any further attempts.

We positioned our vehicle in full view of the pair, and waited, confident that lions usually mate every quarter of an hour or so, making it very likely we’d be in the right place to witness it. Sure enough, a few minutes after we arrived, the female got up, walked towards the male, rubbed the length of her body across his in a plainly seductive way, and waited for his reaction. He wasted little time in accepting her invitation, and we watched the scenes unfold about thirty feet from where we sat quietly. We had a perfect view of this intimate and seldom-witnessed event. Fortunately for us, the early morning light was just right, and the short grass on the plains had recently been cropped by thousands of migrating wildebeest moving through the area, giving us an unobstructed view of these magnificent cats.