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Amazing life of British couple living with lions in the Maasai Mara

Mirror logo Mirror 18/03/2019 Matt Roper
Jonathan Scott et al. standing in front of a tree: A portrait of Jonathan and Angela Scott. © Animal Planet A portrait of Jonathan and Angela Scott.

Angie Scott always starts her day by sitting down with a quiet cup of tea.

But that’s where the similarities between her and most other British pensioners end.

The 66-year-old has her early morning cuppa in the wilderness of Kenya’s Maasai Mara in the open air as the distant sounds of roaring lions roll across the savannah.

She then follows the animals’ calls, driving for miles with her husband Jonathan, 70, to get up close with the majestic beasts they know individually like they would their own children.

The couple, who live in a tiny thatched one-bedroomed cottage in the middle of the reserve, say they are “living their dream” every day - despite admitting to having a few scary moments with the deadly animals they share their home with.

a lion lying in the grass: A lion and his cub from the Marsh Pride in the Maasai Mara © Animal Planet A lion and his cub from the Marsh Pride in the Maasai Mara

The zoologists and wildlife photographers have been documenting the lives of the Maasai Mara’s lions, leopards and cheetahs for over 40 years.

And now they are back on our TV screens with a new wildlife series, Big Cat Tales, shown on the Animal Planet channel this Sunday, allowing us all to get to know their favourite animals, many of which are endangered and dangerously dwindling.

The incredible images of lions and their cubs which have enchanted viewers since their first hit series, Big Cat Diary, is a result of their decades forging a mutual relationship with the animals through daily encounters in their natural habitat.

The couple go out in different safari vehicles, Jonathan in a Land Cruiser and Angie in a Land Rover which has been “customised for ladies” and for her long days out in the wilderness, complete even with a fridge and yoga mat.

a lion looking at the camera: The Scotts leave their home early to get close to the animals © Animal Planet The Scotts leave their home early to get close to the animals a cow is standing in front of a sunset: They have followed the lion prides for decades © Animal Planet They have followed the lion prides for decades

Describing her typical day, Angie told Mirror Online: “I wake up at around 4.30am. I lie in bed listening to the sounds, the lions roaring, and longing to get up and get out soon.

“At first light or just before I’ll sit out on the plains and have a cup of tea and just listen.

“Then by the time we’ve worked out which cat we’re going to find, we take our cars and go.

"Then we’re out all day, until nightfall. We spend hours with them, taking photos, getting close and trying to create the best images we can.

“Our cars become our homes.”

But although the couple have seen the prides grow up and have names for each individual, Jonathan says they would never try to get any closer to the animals, like another couple famous for their friendship with big cats, Born Free’s Joy and George Adamson.

a lion lying in the grass: The couple have built up a relationship of trust with the lions © Animal Planet The couple have built up a relationship of trust with the lions

Jonathan says: “We always stay in the cars. The lions are actually frightened of people if they see you on foot.

“But they definitely get to recognise vehicles that behave nicely with them, and we are always very careful in our approach, very calm. You put out a good energy and they’ll come around.

“There’s one beautiful picture of Angie in her vehicle, with all of the Marsh Pride who have come to lay in the shadow of her car. That’s how relaxed they are.

“It’s not because they know you as friends and if you come out you can have a cuddle with us.

"It’s that they sense they don’t mean you any harm and they don’t need to worry about you.”

a person driving a car: Angie in her specially-adapted safari vehicle © Animal Planet Angie in her specially-adapted safari vehicle a person sitting in a car: A pride lazing in the shade of her car © Animal Planet A pride lazing in the shade of her car

While their tactics mean they have never felt unsafe around the lions, they have had some close calls with other savannah animals - with their most scary moment coming just a few days ago.

Johnathan says: “There was a huge bull elephant who came across to our car.

"Normally they are chilled, but he had been doing a lot of pushing and shoving of other males, and he couldn’t figure out why our car wouldn’t move like they had.

“He came over and took one extra step towards the car, doing everything to try to make us move. I think he thought he was going to have to shove us.

“He decided to stand tall and put his trunk up, and at one point his tusks were virtually coming through the side of the car. Just a little jab forward and his tusk would have gone straight through Angie’s chest.

“In the end I said in a very imposing voice ‘no’ and he took one step backwards which allowed me to gently turn the car on.

"But it was a spine-tingling moment and a wake up call that whatever we might think, danger is always close by.”

animal on the field: The moment leopards attack a wilderbeast © Animal Planet The moment leopards attack a wilderbeast a baby elephant standing in a grassy field: Elephants herds on the savannah plains © Animal Planet Elephants herds on the savannah plains

And he remembered another heart-stopping moment, when the pair had picked a "quiet spot" to get out of their cars and have a rest.

He said: "We turned round and to our horror we saw there was a hippo coming back to the river, right on track and very close to us.

"Hippos weigh two to three tonnes and have very large teeth and can do a lot of damage."

The scariest thing that has ever happened to them was not in Africa at all, but on a sub-Antarctic island where the couple were filming hooker sea lions.

Jonathan said: “We just thought the sea lion would just walk past us, but this one started chasing us.

"Angie managed to tear a disk in her back. I saw him going flying towards her.

“The sea lion actually got beneath the surface of the vegetation as it chased her, and I saw the vegetation just rippling and all the trees collapsing as he ran after her. It was like a scene from the Lord of the Rings.”

a leopard standing on a branch: A rare sight of a leopard, one of Africa's endangered animals © Animal Planet A rare sight of a leopard, one of Africa's endangered animals

The Scotts have committed their lives to raising awareness of Africa’s endangered species since they both found themselves in Kenya in the 1970s.

As well as their popular TV series, between them they have also written numerous bestselling books including Jonathan’s ‘The Marsh Lions’ and their co-authored ‘Antarctica: Exploring a Fragile Eden’ and ‘Stars of Big Cat Diary.

They are also the only couple to have won, individually, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award.

But none of that would have happened if Jonathan, fresh out of studying zoology at university, had not decided to go on a round the world trip, taking a four-month, £500 truck journey from London to Johannesburg in 1972.

He intended from there to take a boat to Australia, but after passing through east Africa knew he was meant to stay there.

a group of giraffe standing next to a tree: The Scotts are able to get closer than anyone else to the animals © Animal Planet The Scotts are able to get closer than anyone else to the animals

He said: “I wanted to have my round-the-world adventure. I never bought into the idea that I was going to have a career and pension, then do what I really wanted to do when I was 60. I wanted to do it now.”

By the late 80s he had already had several books published, and met Angie, who was running a chain of shops for a travel company in Kenya, when she rang him looking to buy a copy of one of his books.

Angie, whose father was a cotton buyer, was born in Egypt and brought up in Tanzania.

Jonathan said: “When I heard her voice I thought, ‘what a gorgeous voice’. When I met her she was gorgeous to look at too. We married in the Maasai Mara, 1000 feet above the plains overlooking the Marsh Pride territory.

“That’s when our adventure together began. And we are still living the dream.”

  • Big Cat Tales is on Sunday March 10 at 8pm on Animal Planet
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