It’s not every day that the opportunity arises to photograph a king. There are formalities and protocols to abide by as you may expect and a little bit of common sense needed too.

The Opus team arrived at 12.30pm prompt at a quiet destination in the middle of the Kent countryside. A map was sent the day before with the exact location for the meeting, as there were no public sign posts en route. The outside air temperature read 34 degrees centigrade as we left the comfort of the air-conditioned car for the sweltering heat. The midday heat was akin to the gush of hot air that suffocates you when disembarking a plane in an exotic location. We signed our names in the guest book at reception and were offered a cold drink. The king had just eaten and was last seen taking a nap under a tree. We were so excited and with camera in hand were escorted by our hosts Alma and Tanith through padlocked gates and narrow paths to meet him. Alma suggested it best to be quiet and lower our heads initially in the king’s presence, and Tanith said not to look him in the eye and maybe wait a second before taking a photo. A minute later after negotiating various security measures we were at last in the presence of the king … Kassinga, king of the jungle, the most magnificent seven-year-old lion one could ever imagine. Standing approximately five foot tall and in his prime, Kassinga took our breath away.

Excited to see Alma and Tanith, Kassinga stood up momentarily onto his hind legs, his giant paws, the size of my head, shaking the metal fence between us. The uninitiated in our group jumped out of our skins and slowly adjusted our behaviour as to not startle or upset our feline friend. Alma and Tanith spoke quietly to Kassinga, calming him and placidly approaching the fence side on, bending their heads and showing no threat. Our hosts said that Kassinga is wonderful company and that lions are the most social of all cats. Within minutes Kassinga was more curious about the new faces on the other side of his fence. Now seated we were all just taking in the most wonderful experience as Kassinga purred and stretched out in front of us. At times he seemed to get agitated and one tiny snarl saw some lion saliva land on my arm.

Sitting face to face with a lion whose head is four time bigger is exhilarating like nothing I have ever experienced before. His eyes followed me and no doubt was curious about the constant clicking from my camera. Tanith tapped my leg and suggested I stop for a while. Kassinga’s tail was showing signs of restlessness and this was probably down to my enthusiasm with my Nikon. ‘Carry on’ I was told and after a moment of face to face sitting Kassinga rolled back onto the ground to sleep.

Twenty minutes had already passed since we met the 185 kg cat and nobody wanted to leave. We were now all lying on the floor, literally, with a sleeping lion. I changed lens and used a 24mm to poke through the 10cm square fence to capture Kassinga as he slept. Inches away from his nose I started to shoot. In my mind I was telling myself ‘Stay calm, don’t jump, don’t flinch, stay calm’. It was like Kassinga new exactly what was going through my mind as he opened his eyes and looked straight at me. My heart raced but by body stayed still. We made sure we had pictures taken of ourselves with Kassinga before we continued with our visit and found it hard to leave the side of one of God’s most beautiful creations.

Our 30 minute encounter with Kassinga is the start of an exciting project that you will learn about more in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

We would like to thank the Big Cat Sanctuary for making the time to accommodate and present us with this incredible opportunity. More information can be found at – http://thebigcatsanctuary.org

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