Here at Safari Guru we’re often asked about Lion Safari Planning! The one almost mythical animal that everyone wishes to see and experience on a safari is the lion! Most of us are, in turn, almost in awe, fear, and curious about lions. To many, a lion epitomises strength, bravery, and courage. They represent the very essence of the bush. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, even this creature faces much danger. Indeed, their sheer numbers in Africa are declining at a fast rate. In the past 100 years, the world has lost over 90% of its lions. Listed on the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) endangered species list, the lion is also classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; not a word we would associate with the worlds second-largest cat.
The cat that plays such a crucial role in keeping Africa’s wildlife populations in balance, in turn supporting vast ecosystems. The African lion population has almost halved since 1993 and live in less than 8% of their historical range and habitat range. Today, only an estimated 22,500 remain in the wild. Although they were found across most of Africa, lions are now almost entirely found within East Africa and Southern Africa. We humans have taken up much of their land and are their greatest threat. Sobering statistics and facts, aren’t they?
Some of the best places to see lions and for lion safari planning is in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve in South Africa and Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve and the Linyanti Private Concession and Zambia’s protected wildlife reserves. However, both of the latter areas are very seasonal – so understanding the best times to book a safari for Botswana and Zambia are crucial. There are many camps that are considered the best for lion safaris and predator photographic safaris; some are even famous for these big cat sightings, but it should be noted that these animals can move along vast ranges of land, and different climatic conditions and local and other factors can sometimes make them difficult to find.
There is, however, much hope for increasing the lion population, with many safari companies, governments, and charitable organisations fighting their cause. Of course, the mere fact that so many of us sit in awe of this great cat means we wish to see them in the wild and not just confined to a zoo. Lions are still present in many large and well-managed protected areas across Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa, to name a few, and your chances of seeing lions on safari are high, if booking via an African safari travel specialist who knows and understand wildlife protected areas versus wildlife hunting areas, which can influence animal sightings greatly!
So, the lion. With a lifespan of roughly 12-18 years in the wild, it is carnivorous and specialised in hunting, dependent on the animal and the size of the pride, (the lion family in which they live), buffalo, zebra, impala, wildebeest, and even giraffe and elephant in extreme cases. They are, surprising to many, also effective scavengers and opportunists who will take much smaller prey such as birds, fish, and reptiles. Lions are rarely solitary, and indeed, don’t do well on their own. However, you will most likely encounter, on a safari, a lone male. When he is likely ‘patrolling’ his territory, protecting his pride of females and ‘brothers’ and cubs. You may also see a lone female; she may have just separated herself from her pride to give, or have given birth, to between 2-4 cubs.
Lions are fascinating to see on a safari. Generally, however, during the heat of the day; lions will be lazing in the sun with their family groups or alone. You may see the odd movement, perhaps a flick of the tail, a gentle twitch of the paw, a swat of a fly, or a giant yawn, almost as if they’ve been overfed or indulged in too much rum….This is the main reason for safari early rises…to see the big cats still moving and finish off their night’s activities before sunrise, and, of course, catch the magical African sunrises…
Yet, if you’re fortunate enough to see these beasts in action, their true colours come to the fore. This is often at night. Although during the day, an unfortunate beast may wander too close, or conditions may be cool and cloudy, or they’re hungry enough to hunt and move…. Then you will see their true strength and speed. These animals can move and react quicker than we see, think and process. A lion hunting is an awe-inspiring sight. A lion kill is immense. An assault on your senses and certainly not for the faint of heart. Indeed, in a recent battle between an adult male buffalo and two female lions, we really did get a true sense of each of their strength – it certainly wasn’t the first kill witnessed by some of the Safari Guru team, but it was one of the most impressive, taking almost 5 hours for those lions to finally succeed in bringing that buffalo down. It was a hard fought contest.
So, where is best to see lions on safari? Some of the best places to see lions are the Linyanti in Botswana (during certain seasons, indeed one camp is called Duma Tau, or Lion’s Roar), the Delta in Botswana – where they’ve even been known to sit outside the gym or walk on the boardwalks, Zambia (again during certain times of the year) almost guarantees lion sightings as does the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
Lion’s Rock from the movie the Lion King is based on an outcrop in Laikipia County, Kenya. The Big Cat diaries is filmed in Kenya’s Maasai Mara and the fantastic movies, Relentless Enemies, Eternal Enemies and Ultimate enemies by the amazing National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, photographers, conservationist’s, film makers and talented Beverley and Dereck Jouberts are all filmed in Botswana.
Photographing lions is fantastic fun, and achievable for even the novice wildlife photographer with entry-level photographic equipment. They are big, beautiful and majestic. Being within just a few yards of them in an open vehicle is a truly magical experience, and a professional safari guide from an authentic safari outfit will park your open safari vehicle just right, allowing, the light to catch their eyes, and golden fur and cubs playing are simply one of the loveliest sights in the world. Remember, though, that it’s certainly easy to overexpose or underexpose essential parts of lions – especially the muzzle and the white patches around the eyes. And the eyes, as mentioned above, are a key part of taking a wonderful photograph – capture the light within them and the eyes staring toward you, or fixated on a distant prey…
Safari Guru Deon, has spent countless hours photographing lions in many different landscapes of Southern and East Africa, including arid regions such as the Kalahari Desert where the famous black-maned lions can be found. Deon has spent many years managing Mombo Camp and Little Mombo Camp in the Okavango Delta. This is Botswana’s predator haven. As such, Deon has many images, memories and much experience to share for lion safari planning. We know, for example, the best time to visit the Okavango Delta, how many days to stay in the Okavango, which camps give a great opportunity to see lions in the Okavango and photographic tips for photographing lions. Feel free to ask other questions; can lions swim, can lions climb trees, or when is the best time to see baby lions?
Another, frequently asked question for lion safari planning, is how close will we get to lions? Safari goers are often surprised at just how close you can get to lions in an open or closed safari vehicle, and this is often a sign of how much respect the local guides have towards the animals, or of course, whether there is hunting happening within the area, as touched on previously – the latter ensuring the animals always keep a wary distance from any human activity, whether it be vehicle-based safaris or walking safaris (although there is a real difference in Mana Pools and Zambia’s, South Luangwa National Park where walking near lions in the day is possible!).
When photographing lions, it’s always good to take note of what your preferred subject matter actually is. What is it you are trying to represent in the image? Sometimes it might not be the lion that actually needs to centre of attention, but perhaps the focus should be on the story and setting around the lion or lions. By understanding this, you can quickly work out where your focal point needs to be. Either the face of the animal or the whole animal itself, as in the case of a much larger visual. When creating lion portraits, make sure the eye detail is 100% in focus, as when admiring your photograph, this is where the viewers eye will pull toward. By using enough depth of field, you can ensure you have from the eye through the rest of the face in enough focus for a good wildlife photographic outcome. Remember, if the lions are on the move, you will need enough camera speed to stop their movement, and don’t be fooled, they can move with great speed at any time, so be prepared.
One final tip, though; remember to take your eyes away from the camera and simply enjoy absorbing the sights, sounds, and smells before you.
Now, time to research your safari and decide where is best suited for your travel itinerary to experience lions in the wild. Safari Guru creates safaris in East Africa and Southern Africa, and there are great lion densities in both, if you know when and where to go.
East Africa’s best lion populations are in Tanzania and Kenya, although more recently the population in Rwanda is also growing in Akagera National Park allowing a great combination safari with gorillas for a primate safari. Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park offers easy access to good lion populations from camps offering various levels of comfort, such as Mkombe House and Lamai Serengeti Camp, Pioneer Camp, Serengeti Safari Camp and Singita’s Grumeti Concession with Sasakwa, Sabora Plains Tented Camp and … Kenya offers the Maasai Mara National Reserve; an extension of the Greater Serengeti and Laikipia County. Some of our favoured camps in these two regions include Nkorombo, Mara Plains Camp, Mara Nyika Camp and Rekero Safari Camp located on the Talek River system; part of the migration route for the one million odd wildebeest, or gnu, that pass through every year in the Great Migration.
Southern Africa comprises a number of countries actively making strides in wildlife conservation. These include lion population management and protection and are actively occurring through, the Okavango Delta’s Mombo and Little Mombo Camps, Chitabe Camps, Duba Plains Camp and Savuti Camp. This is where the Channel Pride live and is known for their preference of hunting in daylight hours. South Africa’s Sabi Sands Private Reserve also has a number of safari camps specialising in wildlife photography and lions. These include camps such as Londolozi, Singita Ebony Lodge and Savanna Private Camp. There are other areas in South Africa where one can see lions in a more children-friendly environment offering family safaris in areas that do not have malaria. Zambia’s Busanga Plains is also well know for dense lion densities and a trip here almost guarantees sighting of these hunting machines if booking a safari for three days or more at Shumba Camp.
Remember, lion densities change per region as the group sizes change according to natural habitat, local food source, pride politics and human involvement. So it is always best to get up to date information before you book your travels to ensure your investment in time and money is well spent. Safari Guru will share information with you on the best places to stay on safari, the best time to book a safari and even other items such as what to pack on safari and what medication do you need on safari. Contact us, and we will gladly help you with lion safari planning.