To lie down with Lions – encounters with the King of the Beasts
I’ll describe a scene in the Seronera woodlands one afternoon.
Three lions are lazing – one male and two females. The male is resting on his haunches - eyes alert and watching everything that is going on around him. His mane is magnificent and dark in colour; and everything about him is oversized – his paws, his mane, even his tail swishing around.
In the background a troop of baboons were squabbling and making noise. In the foreground was a scene out of "Bambi" where two Impala bucks gambolled and chased each other within sight of the lions. The cats must have eaten recently or the bucks knew they were safe until nightfall. Certainly the bushy maned male was watching them but made no effort to go after them.
I lost count of the number of lions we saw on the Serengeti. There seemed to be one under every bush. At this time of year, in the dry season, all the predators come in from the plains to the wooded Seronera area. Here there are year around game to hunt but it also means a large density of big cats in a small area. Which is great if you are a tourist but less fun if you are one of the big cats. Clashes between lions and cheetahs, hyenas, and leopards are pretty de rigeur.
But during the day when the lions are recovering from a night of hunting they are the favourite prey of the tourists. When a pride is spotted they gather around with their safari vans with their cameras pointed at the lolling animals. My favourite was a pride we found late one afternoon as the light was fading of four lionesses and six cubs. They were almost invisible as their tawny hides were exactly the same colour as the grey grass. You could see how they would be invisible to prey animals who only see in black and white. They also had cubs who could be seen with their cute heads above the grass. The cubs would play fight and occasionally throw themselves at the lionesses. The lionesses themselves had perked up and were watching a giraffe across the track with intent.
Lions are the only true social cats. Tigers, jaguars and leopards are solitairy while cheetahs only stick together if they are brothers. A typical lion pride is made of females who do all the hunting. The male, with his mane, is pretty conspicuous out on the grasslands. What does the male do? After all he elbows his way through to a new kill to take the best spoils. He guards against the main danger to the pride – rogue males trying to take over. This usually leads to a fight to the death when younger stronger males try to oust the current male. The males patrol their territory letting out roars. It is those roars I heard in the evening just as I was tucking into dinner and sending shivers down my spine.
During the day we followed two lionesses. One was wearing a radio collar and was being tracked. We encountered them on the road and they led us to a small pond where they proceeded to harass the ducks. They then spend the rest of the time lying down, tongues hanging out conserving energy for that night. A larger maned lion joined them at a trot, sniffed one of the females then proceeded to bat her around the head. When she had reacted with a snarl he shot off as if he had lost interest. For such a large animal he moved at quite a pace.
Lions are numero uno for anyone on safari.The thrill of being in such proximity with such big cats is so memorable. But stay inside that vehicle – even more important when they start roaring at night stay inside your tent. That way you are still alive in the morning.