If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a lion cub carried around in mom’s mouth, now you know—it’s probably very slobbery.
The two African lionesses in this video are four to six years old, meaning they’ve almost certainly reproduced at least once. In fact, the first lioness appears to be lactating, so it’s likely her pride contains one or two cubs—who are being subjected to the same saliva-drenched treatment this GoPro received. (Watch what happens when you give a squirrel a GoPro.)
Christof Schoeman, a guide and wildlife photographer, captured this footage in 2014 while leading a safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. Planting his GoPro along the lionesses’ suspected route, Schoeman watched from a safe distance as the cats veered closer.
“They’re just picking up a suspicious object and carrying it somewhere they can inspect it further,” ecologist Craig Packer—who has spent years studying lions in Africa—explains by email. (Watch to learn why lions are so social.)
“I'd prefer if they actually don't pick it up,” Schoeman admits. “My main goal is to capture a close-up of their natural behavior—I don't want to change their behavior.”
Sometimes, though, curiosity just gets the cat.
This video gives viewers an up-close-and-personal view not even a safari can match, but it also gives conservation scientist Luke Dollar the chance to do a virtual check-up of these wild animals.
“The first lioness has healthy-looking canines, which is a good sign,” Dollar reports. The second lioness, however, seems to have an open root canal in one tooth. “If she were part of a managed group, a vet might want to take a look at that canine and consider pulling it before a potential infection or abscess might develop.”
Lion management remains a fraught subject in South Africa, where regulated hunting of both captive and wild lions is legal. (Meet the dogs parachuting from helicopters to save wildlife.)
While the lodge Schoeman works for only offers sightseeing treks with properly licensed guides, over a hundred ranches across the country rake in tens of thousands of dollars a head from trophy hunters taking aim at captive-bred lions.
That’s not what it’s about for Schoeman. On safari, “You actually get to teach people,” he says. “Sometimes you witness certain people—seeing these animals for the first time in their life, it actually brings them to tears.”