A National Geographic explorer spotted the adult black mane lion on a recent expedition to Bale Mountains National Park.

By Jason Bittel (National Geographic) |

What would you do if you suddenly ran into the king of beasts on a dark road in Ethiopia? Scream? Run? Faint?

Not Çağan Şekercioğlu. Instead, he took a deep breath and kept his camera rolling from inside his vehicle, capturing a rare video of an Ethiopian lion. (See 15 intimate portraits of lions.)

Şekercioğlu, a National Geographic Explorer and ornithologist at the University of Utah, recently traveled to the Bale Mountains National Park to study the long-term effects of climate change on birds. On the long drives between birding sites, he also conducted mammal road surveys.

“That night, we hit upon the best mammal of all,” says Şekercioğlu, who is also a trained videographer and photographer. (See Şekercioğlu’s adventures on his Instagram.)

Most African lions live in the classic savannah habitat of sub-Saharan Africa, but there are a few populations scattered in other countries, including the mountains of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian lions, known for their unusually black manes, were feared extinct until a population of around 50 were rediscovered in 2016. Because few scientists have studied these big cats, it’s unclear if they—and another group of a hundred or so lions across the border in Sudan—represent a separate subspecies.

Carried Away

Şekercioğlu says it took a lot of willpower to keep the camera steady through the open window when the male lion approached within a few feet of his vehicle.

“Part of me was thinking, ‘This is great footage, and I have to keep still,’” he says. “The scientist part of my brain was super excited, but the regular person part just wanted to get out of there.”

Continue reading this story on National Geographic
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