It is one of the most dangerous predators in the world. But upon meeting his newborn cub for the first time, this fearsome lion seems as gentle as a tabby cat.
The heartwarming first meeting between the adorable lion cub and his father was captured on camera in a series of stunning images.
At first, the seven-week-old cub seemed nervous as he approached his father, but the youngster quickly forgot his initial shyness and began playfully scratching and biting the adult lion, before reaching up and planting a kiss on its head.
Hi Dad: The seven-week-old was hesitant when he first approached his father, but he quickly overcame his shyness. The cute pup even seemed to plant a kiss on his dad’s head in this heartwarming photo.
Photographer Suzi Eszterhas spent months tracking the pride of lions in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve to capture the heartwarming first meeting between father and son.
After seeing the newborn cub and its two siblings at around three weeks of age, he followed them as they grew.
By the time they reached seven weeks, the lioness decided her cubs were old enough to be introduced to the rest of the pride, including their father, and the 36-year-old Californian was there to capture the special moment.
The photographer said the protective lioness kept a close eye on all interactions between the cubs and their father to make sure the adult lion wasn’t too harsh on his cub.
But the stunning shots show that the mighty lion was tender in his dealings with the vulnerable cub.
“Newborn animals are always difficult to photograph,” Ms. Eszterhas said.
“You spend a lot of time waiting while they are hidden, completely hidden in tall grass, deep brush or a cave.
But if you put in enough hours, you’ll be there when the mother brings them out.
Nice to Meet You: Father and son look at each other for the first time, while the cub’s protective mother keeps a close watch.
Paternal pride: Adult lion places a protective paw on her cub’s back when the pair first meet in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Playful: The excitable pup may have been a bit too eager with his claws judging by the expression on his father’s face.
Ouch: The adult lion shows its impressive teeth while the cub appears to playfully bite its father, watched by a brother
‘In this case, I followed the pride for three months, every day from sunrise to sunset, from the moment that the pups were only three weeks old.
“In these scenes, the mother led them out of the den to meet the pack for the first time, including their father.”
Miss Eszterhas said of the first meeting between father and son: ‘The cub was a bit shy and apprehensive, but the father was very friendly.
‘In the other photos, the puppies are more familiar with the father and are playing with him.
The father reacted by gently playing with them and often growling.
“In both situations, the mother was sitting nearby, watching very closely, ready to pounce on the father if he got too rough with her pups.”
The photographs have been published in a children’s book series, Eye on the Wild.
“In total, I worked with two different packs for about six months to get the material for the book,” Ms. Eszterhas said.
“And seeing the cubs meet their father for the first time is one of the most memorable wildlife experiences I’ve ever had.
“Working with lions means you are dealing with a lot of downtime as they sleep for around 20 hours a day.
“But it makes it all worth it when you can witness and capture incredible moments like this.”