The Perfectly Imperfect Lion

The Perfectly Imperfect Lion

“The most effective strategy for successful living is really no strategy at all. It is rather to be real, to be honest, to be authentic, to be you”- Ralph Marston

I remember the exact moment I took this photograph.

You would think that when you work as a ranger, all the moments in the bush would begin to blend into one and that after eight years it would be hard to decipher one animal sighting from another. But I even remember the conversation I was having with the friend that was with me at the time. It might be because I felt so strongly about what we were discussing.

This friend was laughingly complaining that the only thing that could have made the scene more perfect was if the lioness had a tail. It was something we argued about.

This old lioness, aged 15, had lost her tail to a hyena many years before. Strangely enough, the exact same fate befell her mother. In fact her mother’s rear had been mauled so badly that she chewed her own tail off to avoid infection. This lioness had lived a hectic life but one of the things that made her really stand out as a legend was that she risked her own survival by choosing to leave her pride’s territory and taking her sister’s cubs away to raise them alone when new males took over their area. Strangely enough, her daughter, this lioness photographed here, replicated this unusual act.

lion, wild again, africa, tailless

The tailless lioness grooms one of the cubs she left her pride’s territory with when it was taken over by new males. Being pride animals, it is quite a feat for a lioness to raise youngsters on her own.

New male lions will kill cubs that are not their own so that it forces the lionesses to come back into estrus, allowing the males to sire their own young. Knowing this, the tailless lioness strategically up and left with cubs that were not even directly her own, hunting for and protecting them alone. This meant that she was forced to move into areas held by other lions and she had to teach a group of cubs how to hunt without the support of her female relatives. This is an amazing feat for an animal that has evolved to survive in a pride.

lioness Wild Again

I love this photograph because her stumpy backside adds an element of quirkiness to an otherwise quintessential scene. Her strange silhouette tells many stories. It’s a profile I really respect. It reminds me that perfection is subjective. Or maybe even that in all its irony imperfection only deepens perfection.

This lioness sadly died earlier this year and was discovered within meters of where her mother died five years prior at almost exactly the same age, continuing their uncannily similar paths.

Glennon Doyle Melton says, “we can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved.” This lioness, I would say, was both. And for many rangers and guests around the world, she will most definitely be remembered too.