Baby animals

Lion love: Father meets his cub for the first time

Aug. 22, 2012 at 1:14 PM ET

Suzi Eszterhas /
Hello, Dad! Father and son bond during their first encounter.

This priceless moment captured by wildlife photographer Suzi Eszterhas on Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve had us all "awwing" in the office. After following a pride of lions for three months, Eszterhas snapped these shots of a male lion meeting his son for the first time.

According to Eszterhas, the curious 7-week-old cub and his siblings had never met their dad before, having been kept in a den under the watchful eye of their mom since birth. Only when the cubs became too big and rowdy for Mom to handle alone does she cautiously let them out and introduce them to the rest of the pride, including their father.

"What's cool about this is, because they've been tucked away in the den, taking them out is this dramatic moment," Eszterhas told TODAY.com.

Suzi Eszterhas /
The father lion was extremely gentle during this first meeting with his son, not getting involved in any serious play as the young one adjusted to his presence.

Capturing the tender father-and-son interaction was very rewarding for the wildlife photographer, who spent a lot of time watching the lions over the course of months.

"This was one of the most memorable moments of my career," she said. "[I'm] out in these long hours and then this amazing moment happens when the cub coyly walks up to his big father."

The lioness still kept a watchful eye on the pride members that interacted with her kids — even when it comes to dad, Eszterhas said.

Suzi Eszterhas /
In this heartwarming photo, Dad seems to let his cub playfully nip at his forehead, or maybe his son is planting a kiss!

"He was always looking at Mom like, 'Oh, is she going to pounce on me?'" she said. She recalled that the father lion was very gentle with his cub, who was rather skittish being around the tough older lion at first. "After a few days of being around Dad they realize he's not going to hurt them and the play becomes rougher, but even when play is rowdy, Dad looks at Mom!"

Suzi Eszterhas /
After some time passes, the cubs realize Dad's just a big softy and play becomes a bit rowdier around him.

The California-based photographer was out following the lions for her new book, "Lion," which is one of six titles in the "Eye on the Wild" series published by Frances Lincoln Publishers. The series is geared toward children and has featured animals such as cheetahs, gorillas, and brown bears in the past, following a member of each species from infancy to adulthood.

Eszterhas hopes these photos and her books will inspire adults and children alike to care about wildlife and conservation efforts, so that future generations will have a chance to see these animals in the wild.

Suzi Eszterhas /
Uh-oh! Dad may be having enough of his son's attention from his expression here. It might be time to let him rest, kid!

Looking at these touching photos, it’s certainly hard to imagine a world without this father-and-son pair.

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