A kiss for daddy, and then perhaps a scratch too far: Heartwarming pictures of a lion cub meeting his father for the first time
By Kerry Mcdermott
He is one of the world's most dangerous predators. But meeting his newborn cub for the first time, this fearsome lion appears as gentle as a tabby cat.
The heartwarming first encounter 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 appeared nervous as he approached his father, but the youngster quickly forgot his initial shyness and began playfully scratching and biting the adult lion, before appearing to reach up and plant a kiss on his head.
Hi dad: The seven-week-old was hesitant as he approached his parent for the first time, but quickly overcame his shyness. The cute cub even appeared to plant a kiss on his father's head in this touching photograph
Photographer Suzi Eszterhas spent months tracking the pride of lions on the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya in order to capture the touching first meeting between father and son.
After catching sight of the newborn cub and his two siblings at around three weeks old, she followed them as they grew.
When 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 watch on all interactions between the cubs and their father to ensure the adult lion was not too rough with her brood.
But the breathtaking shots show the mighty lion was tender in his treatment of the vulnerable cub.
'Newborn animals are always difficult to photograph,' said Miss Eszterhas.
'You spend a lot of time just waiting while they are tucked away, completely hidden in long grass, deep brush, or a cave.
'But if you put in enough hours, you will be there when the mother brings them out into the open.'
Nice to meet you: Father and son lay eyes on one another for the first time, as the cub's protective mother keeps a close watch nearby
Fatherly pride: The adult lion places a protective paw on his cub's back as the pair meet for the first time on the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Playful: The excitable cub may have been a little too eager with his claws judging by the expression on his father's face
Ouch: The adult lion bares his impressive teeth as the cub appears to playfully bite his father, watched by a sibling
'In this case, I followed the pride for three months, every day from sunrise to sunset, from the time the cubs were only three weeks old.
'In these scenes the mother brought them out of the den to meet the pride 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 gentle.
'In the other photos, the cubs 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 a bit too rough with her cubs.'
The photographs have been published in a children's book series, Eye on the Wild.
'In total, I worked with two different prides for about six months to get the material from the book,' said Miss Eszterhas.
'And seeing the cubs meet their father for the first time is one of the most memorable wildlife experiences I have ever had.
'Working with lions means that you are coping with a lot of downtime, since they sleep about 20 hours a day.
'But it makes it all worthwhile when you get to witness and capture incredible moments like this.'