The big cats claws and teeth were no match for the pangolin, a armadillo-like animal covered in tough scales, which the lions caught in Kenya’s Masai Mara County Park.
The unusual encounter is thought to be the first time a pangolin has been captured repelling big cats.
Come on out: A pride of lions were left dumbfounded after they caught a pangolin in Kenya’s Masai Mara County Park which then proceeded to roll itself into a protective ball
A little crunchy: One of the lion cubs tries to sink its teeth into the pangolin, while the other two watch on
A pangolin is seen balancing on a cage after being confiscated by wildlife officials in Kuala Lumpar
Holly Cheese, from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, was on a photography tour with wildlife photographer, Greg du Toit, when the unusual encounter unfolded.
Holly, 53, said: ‘To give you an idea of how rare pangolins are, I have been photographing with Greg for a number of years and it has always been a standing joke between us that when we have been at a particularly good sighting we say ‘Ok, now let’s go and find the pangolin’.
Mr du Toi has been a wildlife photographer in Africa for 18 years but has never come across a pangolin.
Ms Cheese, who is an aspiring professional photographer, spotted the animal in September after following a pride of lions as she ventured back to camp.
She said: ‘As we approached we saw that they were playing with something that looked like a rock as we got closer Greg exclaimed ‘is it a pangolin? My God its a pangolin’
Are you still alive in there? One of the cubs listens in to see if the pangolin is still breathing inside its shell
Roll up: The armadillo-like animal is completely hidden within its shell, with its head wrapped under its tail
Impenetrable: The hardened plates covering their bodies are formed from keratin – a thicker version of the substance than forms human fingernails
‘There were five lions who were obviously both fascinated and frustrated – they could smell the meat inside the animal but could find no way in.
‘It was like giving a dog a rubber toy stuffed with biscuits.’
Ms Cheese said she was ‘thrilled’ to capture the ‘critically endangered’ animal outwitting the lions.
She said: ‘I imagine that it remained curled up until the lions eventually lost interest. It was an incredible sighting.’
No ball games: The lion cub looks defeated as the pangolin prepares to roll on out
Pangolins eat insects and are found across sub-tropical Africa and Asia but are secretive animals and hard to track and spot.
The hardened plates covering their bodies are formed from keratin – a thicker version of the substance than forms human fingernails.
Pangolins curl up into a ball when threatened and its overlapping scales – which are sharp – act as armour. Its face tucks under its tail and its face tucked under its tail.