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AFRICA’S BIG 5 – LION

Africa’s famous ‘Big 5’ species are made up of lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and Cape buffalo, and the term came about during the colonial period to refer to the five animals that were considered the most difficult and dangerous to hunt while on foot. Now, seeing Africa’s ‘Big 5’ is one of the main goals for many photographic safari enthusiasts.

lions Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve
adorable lion cub
Lazy lion

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Lioness and cub
Lion cubs South Africa
Lion family Tanzania
This post digs a bit deeper into Africa’s apex predator, the lion. Weighing up to 500 lbs, these massive cats can take down a Cape buffalo (no small animal itself!), though most of the time they are seen on safari, they are resting. Many safari-goers recognize similar behavior to house cats – small bursts of energy (hunting), followed by long periods of rest (“conserving energy”).

A few interesting lion facts:

  • Lions live in social structures called ‘prides.’ These typically consist of around 15 individuals, though can be much larger or smaller.
  • A lion’s roar can be heard up to 5 miles away.
  • Lions typically hunt as a group, with females most often making kills. The pride will feed together regardless of which individual makes the kill, though the adult males usually eat first and it’s every lion for itself!
  • Tanzania is home to the largest population of lion on the continent. Safaris in Kenya and Botswana are also wonderful for seeing lions as well.
  • Lions can adapt to various environmental conditions. Namibia hosts lions that have adapted to desert life, while lions in Botswana’s Okavango Delta are known to swim.
  • African lions are considered vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN Red List. They are threatened by loss and fragmentation of habitat, as well as due to human/wildlife conflict.

Lion Stories From The Safari Experts

Even the most seasoned safari visitors never tire of seeing lions. All of us at AAC come home with lion stories after every visit, which got us to thinking – why not share a few?

Kent

My favorite place to see lions is the Serengeti in Tanzania as there are so many individuals and prides, and so many opportunities to see them interacting with each other and with other species. Many of the males have large, dark manes which make them look very impressive. One of my best sightings was years ago in Seronera, the central part of the Serengeti, where we saw a double kill…when large, thirsty herds were coming down to the Seronera River to drink, a pride took down a zebra and a wildebeest at the same time. Very exciting!

Anisha

One of my most memorable sightings was seeing a pride of lions with month-old cubs at Mara Plains Camp in the Olare Motogori Conservancy on the edge of the Masai Mara. It was in April, so the background was lush green (and empty, hardly any vehicles!), and we found the lions just as the sun was going down- the setting was classic Mara magic. We spent a quiet hour enjoying our sundowners and just watching them wake up from their afternoon naps, stretch, greet each other, and get ready for the night. The cubs were just incredible, little fluffy balls of energy, just jumping around everywhere (lionesses sure have a lot of patience). It was a perfect way to end the evening!

Sara

My most memorable lion sighting was at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve on a morning game drive. The guide heard that the resident pride of lions had moved back into the Reserve, so we were on a mission to find them. We were really rewarded when we did! It was a pride of 16 lions with a mix of adult females and cubs of every size. They were just beginning to wake up for the day and one by one stood, stretched, yawned, nudged each other, and slowly started walking to a new location. Just when I thought all the cubs were up and moving another would pop up out of the bush and leap after its mom. They were all so adorable. We followed the pride for about an hour and they slowly made their way through the bush. Sometimes they would stop and take a break to relax or the cubs would play. It was amazing to see them all together and on the move!

Diana

My favorite lion sighting was in the Masai Mara Game Reserve. We came across a small pride of lions lounging in the sun and two cubs playing with their mom. It was quite a sight to see with the lionesses and cubs and a large herd of wildebeest moving in the background. I loved viewing how the mother played tough with her cubs, showing who was in charge. It’s amazing to see the energy the cubs have and the patience the mother has with her kiddos.

Susan

This may not have been my favorite sighting, but it was my most exciting. We were at Vumbura Plains Camp in the Okavango Delta. We ran across a couple of lions resting so we stopped the vehicle…a little too close for my husband Peter’s comfort. We were off the beaten path and there were no other vehicles around. I was thrilled to be so close but Peter was a little nervous especially when one walked right up next to him. We were instructed not to move…like I could if I wanted to!

Photos contributed by AAC clients. Lion cub (top left) by Gail Laviola, ‘lazy’ male lion courtesy the Mickiewicz family, lioness and cub courtesy Freidman-Shapot family, 3 lion cubs courtesy the Wolstan family, and lioness with (very young!) cubs courtesy the Bremer family. Header shot by AAC safari specialist Sara.

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