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Olympus Ambassador Tesni Ward captured this golden lioness portrait on a bucket list trip. Read her story…

When the opportunity presented itself to go to Zimbabwe on a photographic safari with Wilderness Safaris, who was I to turn it down? Africa always has a draw that’s undeniable, and I caught the bug a few years prior on my first visit to this incredible continent. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts and other commitments, our trip was short, with only two full days in Hwange National Park and a couple of travel days, but this was more than enough to fall head over heels in love with the park and the fantastic guides and members of staff working at our lodge at Davison’s Camp. With wildlife photography, time is crucial in order to maximise the chances and opportunities you have, especially as the behaviour and habits of wildlife can be wildly varied and difficult to predict when covering such a large area.

After around 30 hours of travelling, we eventually landed on the strip in the heart of Hwange National Park and, as time was of the essence, we headed straight out for our first game drive. We were lucky to come across an impressive bull elephant relatively early on and spent the evening with him before heading over to a nearby watering hole once the sun had set. It was clear this park had an abundance of elephants. We were in the company of no less than 25 individuals at one point as they approached from all directions to drink. As the light was reaching the absolute limits of what we could work with in terms of capturing images or video footage, we headed back to camp to eat, recover and rest as the following day was going to be activity-packed.

At dinner, we heard from some other guests staying at the lodge that a pride of lions had been found feasting on a young elephant carcass, so we knew instantly it would be worth visiting that location when we had the chance. Unfortunately, on the first day we arrived a little late and missed the best of the light. I knew we had to come back even earlier the following morning when we had the day dedicated to game drives, but for now we were heading out to visit the local community, school and antipoaching organisation. It was wonderful to see the support and financial aid going towards such great initiatives, with the locals working hard to repurpose plastic waste into jewellery, ornaments and bowls. The local school had fantastic facilities and truly enthusiastic and intelligent children with big aspirations for the future, including some who were moving on to university and further education. Our visit to the anti-poaching division was even more exciting, and they had successfully captured two poachers in the act that very same day. We were treated to a great introduction of the work the organisation carries out and how it is helping to protect the wildlife within the park from snares, traps and poisoning. It was truly heartwarming to see how dedicated and passionate the team were, and the future is bright as far as the wildlife is concerned, due to their daily patrols and work within the community.

After our scheduled activities were done for the day, we headed out to the plains in the hopes of some elephants or larger mammals for sunset, but luck wasn’t on our side and we had to settle for a wildebeest in an acceptable position, but it was certainly not what we’d hoped for overall. The plan was made there and then to head to the lions for the morning, ensuring that we’d arrive before the sun rose. This ended up being the best morning for photography, as we watched them feasting and bickering as the golden light gradually rose from behind us. As the carcass was in a ditch, the lions all faced away from us and were slightly obstructed from a clear view, until a lioness (who I named Ele), stood up and climbed onto the top of the carcass, lying down and facing in our direction. I had only a split second to make the decision to continue to shoot with the my OM-D E-M1X, M.ZUIKO 300mm f/4 IS PRO lens and 1.4x teleconverter, as I knew I didn’t have time to take the converter off. The M.ZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO on my second shooter OM-D EM-1 Mark II would not have had enough focal length for the image. While it was a tight crop, she was able to fit into the frame and the light truly made the image for me as she gazed off towards the sunrise. It was a fantastic morning of photography, filming and simply enjoying the time we spent there before we headed out for the rest of the day looking for more elephants and opportunities. Then, before we knew it, we were heading back home! While the trip was short, it was certainly not short of great encounters and opportunities and I hope to return one day in the future. The second morning with the pride of lions certainly stands out as the photographic highlight of my trip.

You can see more from Tesni on InstagramFacebookTwitter or by visiting tesniward.co.uk.

Article featured in Olympus Magazine Issue 64 – to see the latest copy of this free digital magazine click here.