The Incredible Story Of The Lioness And The Baby Baboon

The Incredible Story Of The Lioness And The Baby Baboon

When photographer Evan Schiller and Lisa Holzwarth drove through the northern Botswana’s Selinda area they saw a large troop of baboons charging through the bush. “30-40 baboons were heading in our general direction making a lot of noise,” Lisa recalls.

The baboons were obviously frightened by something and they all scampered up trees, shouting, alarming, and making a big scene. It quickly became clear what the problem was: two large lionesses came out of the tall grass and rushed the baboons into the trees, soon joined by two more lionesses. “Between the baboons shrieking and the lionesses communicating with deep guttural roars, it was a mad scene,” Lisa says.

But then the real chaos began! One brave baboon descended the dead tree and tried to make a run for it… but got snapped up in the jaws of a lioness.

lions and baboons
The lioness grabbed a female baboon on the run. But there was something else there… As the baboon lay dying in the jaws of the lioness, a little baby (less than a month old) slowly disengaged from its mother’s body. Photograph by Evan Schiller
Lioness and baby baboon
Instinct took over and the baby tried to make a go for a tree, but did not have the strength to climb. At this point the lioness noticed the “little guy” and went over to investigate. Photograph by Evan Schiller
Lioness and baby baboon
Instead of snapping the baby up in a deadly movement, she started to play with the baboon. Photograph by Evan Schiller
Lioness and baby baboon
The lioness was inquisitive and gentle at the same time. Photograph by Evan Schiller

“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 softly picks up the baby baboon and drops it in front of her. Photo by Evan Schiller
After a while she picked up the baboon softly in her mouth and walked away, then settled down with the baby between her paws. Photograph by Evan Schiller
Lioness and baby baboon
In a strange behavioural twist, the baboon started to try and suckle the lioness. Photograph by Evan Schiller

What happened next blew our minds – the baby, in another instinctual moment, held onto the lioness’ chest and tried to suckle…

Lioness and baby baboon
Photograph by Evan Schiller
Back off Jack!
The lioness got distracted—this time by two male lions who arrived on the scene. Their advances, however, were met with aggression by the lioness. Was she defending the baby baboon? Or just uninterested in their mating advances? Photograph by Evan Schiller

Here’s where it gets interesting: Waiting in a nearby tree is a big male baboon, who is obviously intent on saving the baby. The male lions were causing such a ruckus that it presented a short window of opportunity for the brave hero to descend the tree, grab the baby and head back to safety.

“I was touched by how gently the father baboon held this little baby who was in tough shape after its ordeal.” 

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The heroic male baboon, having just saved the baby from the lions, cradled him in his arms. Photograph by Evan Schiller

The heroic male baboon, having just saved the baby from the lions, cradled him in his arms. Photograph by Evan Schiller

With the heat of the morning sun getting stronger by the minute, the Father Baboon had to make a move.  Holding the baby, in all sorts of contorted positions, he tried numerous times to climb down the tree.  He tested the lionesses’ interest with each descent. Photo by Evan Schiller
The father baboon had to make a move. Holding the baby, in all sorts of contorted positions, he tried numerous times to climb down the tree. He tested the lionesses’ interest with each descent. Photograph by Evan Schiller

The baby baboon was really struggling with the heat and the father baboon really needed to get him into the shade. Finally, with the combination of daring courage and the lions own desire to take cover in some shade, he was able to dash to the safety and shade of a neighbouring tree. And what happened to the baby? It seems the little guy survived with the help of his troop. He was alive and safe in his father’s arms when Evan and Lisa left. “No matter what,” Lisa says. “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.”

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