Photographer Ed Hetherington, primarily a family and wedding photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia, went on a trip to Africa to take a break from his usual pursuits. In Zimbabwe, he wanted to photograph the wild animal kingdom from a unique, “on-the-ground perspective.” Smart enough to not get down on the ground himself, Hetherington bought a small remote control stand for his camera to capture close-up images of the local wildlife.
On one outing, Hetherington placed the stand near the carcass of a 400-pound buffalo that a lioness had just brought down (the big cat was quenching her thirst at a nearby stream when Hetherington snuck in). Neither the photographer nor his guide anticipated that this would be a distraction for her, especially since she had fresh dinner waiting for her and because she was familiar with human objects as a frequent visitor to the area around Hetherington’s camp.
Hetherington described the surprising series of events that happened next on his Facebook page,
Instead of going back to feed on the fresh kill, the lioness decided she wanted to borrow the camera. She picked it up like she would a cub and carried it almost as if to say ‘Yeah, nice try’. It all happened very quickly and as soon as she picked it up we began to drive toward her – she quickly lost interest and put it down before we got close.
Hetherington has since gone on to use the images to raise funds for the Dereck and Beverly Joubert and National Geographic Big Cat Initiative.
“I didn’t intend for the lioness to actually interact with the camera so I figure since she did all the hard work, she should be able to get rewarded by helping her fellow lions,” Hetherington wrote in an email. “It’s an amazing experience seeing the lions in the wild and the Big Cats Initiative is doing great work to ensure that futures generations will have the same opportunity to see them that my wife and I had.”
The camera came out of the ordeal slightly banged up. It wasn’t destroyed, but the lioness’ teeth had damaged a few parts of the device. But she went easy on it, if you ask Hetherington.
“We saw her kill a buffalo the next day and she pretty clearly demonstrated what she could have done to the camera if she had wanted to,” he said.