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South Africa

From Game Drive to Game Over: The Lion That Ate My Camera

I hunted the “Big Five,” not with a weapon but a backpack full of cameras. This is the unforgettable story of the Lion that ate my camera!

The journey to Johannesburg, South Africa, differed from my last safari trip, as I had first-hand experience photographing a previous game drive in Kenya and the associated challenges. On this trip, my photography gear included my standard DSLRs and lenses; however, I had a plethora of clamps and magnetic mounts to attach smaller, remotely operated 4K video cameras to the outer vehicle body instead of shooting through a clean’ish window or protective cage.

My go-to remotely operated cameras were two DJI Pocket 2 gimbal cameras which shoot impressive 4K video while controlling pan, tilt, zoom, and settings from the vehicle’s safety using WiFi.

The “Big Five”

With cameras attached to the vehicle and my DSLR in hand, the game drive began in Pilanesberg National Park. The full-day game drive on a sunny, warm day yielded dozens of unique opportunities to photograph most of the big five. Admittedly, the sheer size of the park and unrestricted roaming of animals made up-close encounters rare; however, there was some, but not total, success in seeing the big five.

The next day, I seized the opportunity to visit 1000-hectare Lion & Safari Park to continue the photographic hunt. The Lion & Safari Park is a protected environment resembling a wildlife sanctuary rather than the wide-open Serengeti. As a result, many animals are accustomed to human interaction and curious about human visitors. Naturally, wild animals will attack if provoked; however, caged vehicles offer above-average protection.

The Lion ate my camera

As we slowly crept up on a pride of lions, a few curious younger females decided to get a closer look at us and were intrigued by the rustling of a plastic bag inside the vehicle.

Attached 4m (12′) above the ground was my DJI Pocket 2, magnetically mounted to the vehicle’s roof. Without fail, the 200kg (440lb) zeroed in on the tiny camera and decided (in typical cat-like fashion) that she would like to play with it too.

With a gentle leap, she grabbed the camera off the vehicle’s roof and brought it back to the other lions to play with.

What happened to the camera?

I suspected my magnet-mounted camera could fall off the vehicle or fall victim to animal shenanigans. So, I streamed everything wirelessly to my phone and saved the feed directly on my device.

After the lion attack and resulting playtime with the camera, the novelty (and taste) of the DJI Pocket 2 camera quickly wore off, and she abandoned her trophy 15 minutes later.

The safari continued without the camera for a while; the park staff recovered the camera later that day and were handsomely rewarded for their efforts. 

In the end, the camera was a bit soggy from the lion licking and chewing on the magnetic mount; however, surprisingly, the camera was in one piece and still FULLY WORKING! Even though I had the video streams of the encounter stored on my phone, the SD card yielded fantastic 4K footage of the lion attack and a giant cat being a cat.

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