African Safari blog

Some of Africa’s most interesting animals and where best to find them – Lions

African Wildlife

Lions, the kings of beasts and top of the food chain – though you would never think it from this photograph as they are littered about in the heat of the afternoon!

Just as well game drives are scheduled for early morning and late afternoon when they are likely to show more signs of life than in the photograph! Lions sleep for about 20 hours per day and, when asleep, look as if they would not hurt a fly – but don’t be fooled – take one step out of the game vehicle and their opportunistic instincts will kick in quickly!

Characteristic

Lions are primarily nocturnal. Their amazing sight is the reason for their ability for night hunting. It is thought they need only 1/6th of the light required by humans to see. The white patches underneath their eyes help to reflect any available light back towards their eyes, thus enhancing their sight.

Male lions are readily distinguishable from females by the presence of a thick mane. The thicker and darker the mane, the healthier the lion! The mane offers protection for the neck in dominance fights and, as a thick dark mane seems to indicate virility, serves to increase his attractiveness to females. But I think the lioness in the following photograph must have had a headache that day!

Lions are the most sociable of cats and form prides consisting of (generally) related females, sub-adult males and one or more (a coalition of) males. Male cubs are normally pushed out of the pride on reaching maturity at around 3 years of age and can look very sad in their abandonment. Brothers expelled at the same time often form a coalition.

The lionesses in a pride often synchronise reproduction thus giving the cubs a better chance of survival and accommodate collective care in a nursery while the other mother goes off to hunt. It is common for other lactating females to suckle another pride member’s cubs. A lioness will normally secrete her cubs away from the world (including from her pride) until they are between six and eight weeks old.

Pride males tend to be the protector of the pride (including the cubs) and secure their territory by regular patrols. Females cooperate to do most of the hunting as we discovered in a recent safari when we were witness to a pride kill – which took all of us (particularly the prey) by surprise.

As we were wrapping up our African wildlife safari tour for the day at about 7 pm, we came across a 10 member pride with dinner on their mind – African wildlife safari style – in the vicinity of a herd of impala (the McDonalds of the bush!) We watched as one of the lionesses disappeared into the thicket, the other nine prowling slowly towards the impala. When the prowling lions lay down we almost wrapped up our safari viewing for the day. But in a last hurried scan of the landscape, we observed a game changer – a (brainless) wildebeest!

In the dark we heard a thunder of hooves and flicked on the spotlights just in time to witness a relatively rare sighting – that of a wildebeest being flushed out by the reappeared lion with another hanging on to its windpipe in a death grip! Within half an hour all that was left was a ribcage and by the following morning only bloodstains on the grass! Phew! This was what I was dreading all these years and it happened so fast I didn’t even have time to panic!

Best Place to Find Them

It would be a very poor safari without lion sightings! So be assured you can expect to see lion wherever your safari is based.

However if it is film stars you are seeking, the most famous are the cast of Big Cat Diary who reside close to the Governors set of camps in the Masai Mara.

Whatever you do though DO NOT participate in any lion walking or cub petting activity! Despite assertions to the contrary, the operators of these tourist attractions do not release the cubs to the wild when they get too old to be trusted with members of the public. Instead, we have discovered that they sell them to canned hunting operations so American dentists can show how brave and virile they are by killing lions who (mistakenly) have learned not to fear humans!

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Some of Africa’s most interesting animals and where best to find them – Warthogs

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Some of Africa's most interesting animals and where best to find them - Wild Dogs