Demand versus earn.
Some beings demand respect. They do this by pushing others around, asserting dominance through bravado, and can even believe in their own false-placed sense of hierarchy. But some beings, they earn respect. I don’t feel like I've ever been in the presence of a living being that earned more respect than this Lioness, “Matsumi.”
Matsumi is a well-known and documented member of a distinguished pride of Lions living in the heart of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. When I captured this image, Matsumi was a nursing mother, a legendary status for a wild Lioness.
I remember this day vividly from my time in Africa. The sunrise was interrupted by the pronounced screech of a young Lion cub’s distress call, a mother‘s worst nightmare. The other Nat Geo cameraman and I raced to find the source but before we could, two male Lions had beaten us and Matsumi to the den site. They began to investigate nosing through the leaves and branches surrounding the opening to the lair. The four cubs in hiding, all just days old and hungry, calling to their mom Matsumi, only drew more attention from the two males.
Aggressive curiosity took over and the two male Lions uncovered the cubs and began hitting them around, not unlike a cat playing with ball of yarn. Adult Lions have killed many cubs this way, whether through intent or accident, and cubs are often intentionally killed by male lions taking over a pride. Agonizing to watch, one can only imagine how the cubs felt. How long could these tiny newborns withstand the battering they were suffering? Time seemed to grind to a halt with minutes crawling by before Matsumi came racing in to protect her offspring. She confronted the two males, thrusting her chest forward and rushing at them, over and over again, her voice challenging them as much as her body. Piercing, bass-throttling roars from the three battling Lions pierced my soul; I tried to keep my composure and document this battle, 10 feet in front of my game drive vehicle.
After Matsumi successfully defended her cubs she had to move them to a new den to safeguard them from another attack. One by one, she individually moved all four of them to a new den site over a mile from where this battle occurred. I slinked out of the vehicle as she walked past us for the first time, her cub carefully nestled in the same jaws that just fought off lethal attackers. I was sure to get down to eye level. I wanted to look deeply into the eyes of the being that just earned my utmost attention, reverence and respect. A female Lioness facing aversion, would do anything to protect the ones she loves. Respect.