RIO AND MAX
When working in New Zealand it is not often you get an opportunity to photograph a lion cub! So when I heard that a Wildlife Sanctuary in Rotorua had a litter of cubs I contacted them to see if it would be possible to photograph them. I was told I was able to have access to the cubs, but I wasn’t able to stop the paying tourists coming through the pens and having the lion cub pat they were promised.
My assistant and I packed the car, and drove the 3 hours from the studio to Paradise Valley Springs to spend the day wrestling with and tickling two one-month-old lion cubs tummy’s while battling with busloads of tourists, not a job anyone would complain about! The lion cubs were adorable, just like giant kittens, thankfully they weren’t too aggressive in their play and we managed to come away unscathed. I arrived at the shoot with the idea of photographing one of the cubs on a beautiful vintage chair I had brought with me but the cubs weren’t having a bar of it, they hissed and stalked the chair and there was no way of encouraging them to settle long enough for me to capture an image. There was also no possibility of adding props like ribbons or flowers, these were wild animals, not domesticated pets. They had already bitten and clawed at the canvas backgrounds we had set up, but seemed to have accepted these. So we set to trying to exhaust the cubs with play so I could attempt to get some images of them asleep.
After a number of hours, Rio, the little girl finally started to settle down next to me on the pink background and allowed me to tickle her tummy. She was finally dropping off to sleep when yet another load of tourists arrived inside the pen, she startled a little but I managed to settle her down again after a quick ‘shhhhh’ gester to the tourists. Rio finally dropped off into a deep sleep and I was able to roll her onto her back and position her legs and head into the perfect position to capture her in blissful slumber, watched on still by all the tourists whom I am sure have lots of images amongst their holiday snaps of a local New Zealand photographer working her magic.
Max took a little longer to settle but once he fell into a deep relaxed sleep I was able to lift him onto the raised platform and position him to show of his paws and gorgeous spotty markings. If you ever get the chance to spend some time with a lion cub, be sure to caress their paws. Still to this day I can vividly remember the touch of those paws, super soft and squishy, totally adorable, just like giant kittens.