My original plan for today’s post was to focus on the predators we saw on safari. But as I looked through my photos, I realized that our experience with lions alone justified a post all to itself! So, cheetahs and leopards and the rest of the meat-eating gang will have to wait…today the “king of the jungle” will take center stage.
Of course, we were not in the jungle…but we spotted a lion fairly quickly in Tarangire Park. Mansour, our guide, pulled the truck up to a dry river bed and pointed. There she was, our first lion, sprawled out in the river bed, camouflaged in the dirt.
We were pretty excited to see this great predator in real life, in the wild. Later, from the top of the hill looking down on the river bed we spotted her whole pride…the rest had been hiding around a bend in the river bank. Though quite far away and completely inanimate in their state of rest, it was still pretty cool to see so many lions together in such a picturesque setting. (Can you spot all eight of them?)
At the time we didn’t realize how much up-close and personal time we would get with these great creatures in the days to come.
It was not long after reaching the endless plains of the Serengeti the next day when, once again, Mansour pulled the truck over and pointed to some well camouflaged cats we would have missed without his expert guidance.
A short while later, we ran across a lone lioness, and this one we had not trouble finding, even with our untrained eyes! She was strutting alongside the dirt road and came right up next to the truck.
Several other safari trucks came by, and even with all these goofy humans gawking at her, the lioness paid us no mind. Not realizing how slightly she would acknowledge our presence, when she first passed an arm’s length from the truck, I have to admit to being a bit nervous. I’ve seen the athleticism of these animals, and I know if she wanted to, she could easily jump up on the truck and reach us from the pop-up roof. But my concern was unnecessary. Mansour informed us that in a park with such abundant food sources, adult lions accept that humans are more trouble than they are worth and are not aggressive. The only ones to keep an eye on are the juveniles, and even then only if you are outside the vehicle. Much like their human equivalent, the “teenagers” are very curious and will sometimes push their boundaries to see what they can get away with. Regardless, when this lioness looked back at us, no one had to convince me to stay tucked away in the truck!
Over our two days in the Serengeti we came to recognize that lions were not the elusive, shadowy predators we expected them to be. We saw them everywhere! We saw juveniles lounging in trees…
…and young cubs stashed away in a low tree branch while mom was out, probably hunting.
We even saw a male-female pair, separated from the rest of the pride for a little intimate alone time.
Our frequent lion sightings continued when we moved on to Ngorongoro Crater. Shortly after descending into the crater we spotted another lone lioness trotting towards our truck.
Oddly, she headed straight for the road, then proceeded to trot along the dirt path. Mansour pulled a quick U-turn and we followed her for about 20 minutes…she looked a little lean and hungry, and we were hoping to witness a hunt. While she never found the right prey to stalk, she was still a joy to watch. As she casually made her way down the road, we could hear her rhythmically emitting a low, subtle growling noise, almost as if she were muttering to herself. At one point she stopped, taking stock of the scene around her, and without any signs of aggression, showed us a little teeth.
I think she was just trying to show off - “Look, no cavities!”
On the other side of the crater we found another pride, spread out around the road. There were a few females lounging on a small knoll and a male and female snoozing in the tall grass. Then we spotted a second male not too far off. Two males in the same territory? Why were they not fighting? Mansour informed us they were probably brothers, who often pair up to depose a strong dominant male with a large pride. He decided to go for a stroll and gave us the best close-up view we had of a full-maned male.
Shortly after, we stumbled onto another group of lions. This time there were three females, and their crouched stealthy positioning told us they were on the hunt!
Just over the horizon we spotted the prey - three warthogs grazing. We watched this scene unfold for some time. The warthogs casually grazing, unaware of the impending danger, while the three lionesses slowly stalked them, creeping in the grass and flanking out around them. The stalking went on for a while, and they drifted farther and farther from the road. By the time the action hit, they were at the limit of visibility, even with the aid of binoculars and zoom. But we could still see enough to know that they were unsuccessful. The warthogs caught sight of them at the last second and were able to scamper away unharmed. (The two warthogs are on the left, two of the lionesses on the right.)
Our final lion encounter came at the very end of our safari, just before leaving Ngorongoro Crater. Up ahead on the road we could see a tight knot of several safari trucks, clearly huddled around something worth watching. As we pulled into the crowd we spotted them - a huge pride of lions (at least 8-10 females and 2 males) was clustered on the side of the road with a large buffalo kill.
Based on the state of the carcass, Mansour said the hunt and kill probably happened earlier the day before, and the smell in the air supported his theory. The pride had been here since, gorging on meat until they were all so fat and happy they simply flopped over in exhaustion. One of the females was laying on her side, motionless, in the middle of the road. We were concerned she was injured, or even dead. Mansour told us she was just full and resting. Sure enough, a short while later she started to roll and round and stretch on the road.
I know this feeling - I have experienced this lazy, contented fullness after a good Christmas or Thanksgiving feast. Fully satisfied, she slowly got to her feet and wandered around between the trucks, sometimes stopping to scratch herself on a bumper.
We witnessed this comfortable behavior with the lions throughout our safari. They truly are the kings of the jungle - or plains, as the case may be - and conduct themselves with a confidence that expresses a total lack of fear. They know they are in charge. It was, quite simply, awesome.