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Serengeti lions shrug off mini robot tank, micro drone

Photography machines prompt yawns from the big cats, but capture stunning images for National Geographic.

Serengeti lion
Cheese? The photographers used a rolling camera bot from Super Droid Robots.
Screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

How close would you want to get to a lion with your camera for that perfect shot? It turns out that one way to capture the terrifying beasts -- and produce spectacular images -- is with a mini roving robot.

National Geographic lensman Michael "Nick" Nichols and videographer Nathan Williamson used a remote-controlled camera robot and a MikroKopter mini UAV to photograph a pride of lions in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

After they got used to the machines, the cats generally ignored them while Nichols and Williamson shot 242,000 images and 200 hours of video, mostly from a modified Land Rover.

The results were published in the August edition of National Geographic magazine and a multimedia feature called "The Serengeti Lion."

The project is affiliated with a National Geographic lion conservation campaign dubbed the Big Cats Initiative, as well as Snapshot Serengeti, a wildlife photography initiative by scientists that has been raising money on Indiegogo.

While most of the images were created through traditional handheld camerawork, the dSLR-equipped robot rover grabbed some magnificent closeups of the lions.

"It's basically like a video game," National Geographic News quoted Nichols as saying.

"I had to do all the photography through the computer. There is a delay, and [there was] constant failure of the Wi-Fi. We had to be ready for when the lions would lick each other or do something besides sleep, so we would get it into position to make the picture, and then the Wi-Fi failed and we would lose everything."

The team still managed to grab some amazing visuals. Check out the video of how they did it below.