Everyone has an animal they want to see in the wild on their wish list; for me it was the big cats, and in particular the lions of the Serengeti. I wanted to see lions in their natural habitat for myself. I told you yesterday how we were lucky on our arrival to get a fantastic view of a male lion guarding his prey; on our game drives on days 2, 3 and 4 we went in search of more lions.
We spotted a few lionesses lazing on top of a termite mound; and one dozing in a tree (I hadn’t actually realised that lions spend a lot of time up trees); just that bit too far away to get more than a glimpse with the binoculars, where we could clearly see their feline faces and their beautiful almond-shaped eyes. And then, something extraordinary happened: we came across a whole pride, lazing under the trees, watching a group of elephants. Following a slightly hairy moment when our jeep got stuck in the mud, we made our way over to have a closer look.
The younger cubs were sitting together, and seemed unphased by our arrival – they were more interested in watching the elephants over the road (although apparently lions rarely attack elephants – too big). Aren’t they gorgeous? It turned out that these young lions belong to one of the ‘Super Prides of the Serengeti’, so called because they have so many lions in their pride; no wonder they seem so chilled. Definitely safety in numbers.
This lioness looked straight at me; I love her big paws and the bemused expression on her face.
And then she yawned, showing her teeth.
What I loved about watching the lions is that they do behave just like cats – the way they saunter across the grass, lie down and flick their tails; at one point one of the lionesses in this pride licked behind her sister’s ears, giving her a wash; the younger ones yawned and played together like kittens. And of course because you’re seeing them without ANY barriers – just wild and free – they can wander where they like. It’s incredibly thrilling.
The wonderful golden hues of their fur gives them excellent camouflage in the long grasses of the Serengeti. As it was the rainy season (with lots of wildebeest and antelope around) they had all managed to eat well, which is probably why they were so content to laze in the sun.
Seeing the wild lions of the Serengeti this close up, watching them move and interact with each other was a total privilege, and a poignant reminder that animals like this belong in their natural environment, not cooped up in zoos or safari parks. I’m sure if we asked them they’d rather taken their chances and live out their days born free, like they’re supposed to be, than in some sort of prison, however big or ‘open’ the cage or fence. There are approximately 3,500 lions of the Serengeti, running free. One of the biggest threat to the cubs is male lions from other prides, who will kill them in an attempt to dominate their mothers. But the biggest threat, as ever, is man.
It breaks my heart to think that there are those who get a thrill out of ‘canned hunting’ – hunting and killing these beautiful creatures, for kicks. You have to believe in karma, really.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our elephant encounters.