The Lion, the King of the Jungle.
One of the first things we think of when we think about an African safari is the Lion. In fact on Google the most used animal term in relation to safari searches is the lion. Quite simply no other animal has captured the popular imagination as much as Panthera leo.
Lions are unique among the big cats. They are the only ones to live a communal lifestyle. This apex predators live in family groups, called a pride, which normally comprises a large dominant male, about five grown females and their offspring. The numbers vary from pride to pride and from area to area as well. Sometimes males enter into ‘agreements’ and share a pride but more often a male has to leave at the age of about two years and go off and form his own pride. The standard way to get a new pride though is just to take over from an ageing male who is too weak to defend his family. In this case the new young male kills the cubs as this brings the females into oestrus so he can start his own dynasty.
Lions are of course carnivores and eat a varied diet. This depends on the area the lions live in such as in Botswana where lions prey on cape buffalo a lot more often than elsewhere. The standard approach for a lion family dinner is that the females will go out hunting. The males are rather lazy in this regard. Lionesses hunt as a pack, the dominant one taking the lead and the others helping out by flanking the prey or by adding muscle to pull down bigger animals. A big enough pride can hunt baby elephants but normal prey is wildebeest, zebras, buffalo and antelope. Breeding season is a time of plenty for lions as there are lots of weaker, younger animals around.
The magnificent lion can be found all over East- and Southern- Africa but some of the best places to see them are the Maasai Mara and Serengeti system and Botswana.
Lifespan: 15-25 years
Height: 1.2 m at the shoulder
Weight: Males 200 kg
Females 125 kg
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Best time of year
The best time of the year to see lions is in March in the serengeti. At this time the short grass rains have brought baby wildebeest into the world. That is a lions favourite food.
Where to see
The Massai Mara is well known for its lions and its lions are well known. This means that most guides know the favourite hangouts of the different prides and can generally find them quickly
Kruger National Park in South Africa is another hotspot for seeing lions. On the famous S100 road lions are often spotted patrolling in the early morning or the evening. However when they aren’t they have some favourite resting spots not too far from the road so they are pretty visible.
the Serengeti in March and February is a lions delight. The one million strong wildebeest herd gives birth to hundreds of thousands of calves in the south and where better for a sub-adult lion to learn to hunt.
the Okavango is just the Okavango. No more to say. The abundance of wildlife there means lions can still thrive.