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Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

Some photos remain etched in your mind forever. This one, of a mother giraffe and her baby, is one of our most widely published images, "a solid 10 on the 'awww' scale" according to one seasoned photo editor. For us, however, it was one of the most emotionally traumatic to shoot.

On a morning game drive in northern Kenya's Samburu National Reserve, we had come upon a group of giraffes, clearly alert to some threat. Among them was a very young calf who peered out from the safety of his mother's protective forelegs, making a wonderfully appealing picture.

Suddenly, we noticed movement in the grass nearby. Sure enough, camouflaged by the grass, a lioness was stalking the herd. As the tawny cat crept closer, the little giraffe moved away from his mother, and for the first time we noticed blood on his neck—the lion had already attacked once.

Suddenly the big cat charged again. The herd stampeded, and in a flying leap the lion claimed its prize with a powerful bite to the neck. Too late, the mother raced back to defend her baby, flailing at the lion with her forelegs, driving it into the bush. The young giraffe struggled weakly, but
was unable to rise.

Sick at heart, we forgot our cameras and watched wordlessly. The other giraffes began to move away, but still the mother circled protectively, returning again and again to her baby's now lifeless little form. Patiently, the lion waited. Unwilling to witness the inevitable ending to this saga, we departed.

The photograph appears to depict a warm and comforting scene. But for us, this image will always evoke a much more poignant memory and a graphic lesson in the life-and-death rhythms of the natural world.