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African Lion Safari in Kenya: The Ultimate African Safari and Lion Country

The African lion is fabled as the King of the African Jungle. On a recent vacation to the Maasai Mara game reserve in Kenya, I was awed at the sheer respect that the African lion commands. It was one of the most rewarding trips in all my wildlife safari vacations.

It was the morning a day after our arrival at Olarro Camp located in the Maasai Mara, one of the best animal safari destinations in Africa. We departed camp at around 6.00am in the morning for our much awaited morning game drive. Our Maasai guide, Sammy, and the camp manager Sean packed us in their open Land rover truck and off we went on a popular game track. We were pleasantly surprised at Sammy’s spotting prowess that, less than a kilometer from camp, had already spotted a lone male cheetah. Probably on its early morning hunting stakeout, the cheetah wasn’t very amused at our unwelcome intrusion and trudged along grudgingly.

The mating Lions
Off we went to look out for the elusive lions in the short savannah brush. We were negotiating a blind corner when …..Wham… a pride of 3 young males in the company of a lone female. The minute I spotted the lions, I knew this is not the situation you want to seem too intrusive. One seemingly larger male Lion with a slightly darkening mane was separated from other 2 young and was busy courting a Lioness. The two other lions seemed to have lost the contest for the single lioness and were circling around the pair with a lot of bitterness. Our arrival had simply compounded their anger. On the other hand, we had walked onto a mating pair and the dominant male was so infuriated by our interruption of his engrossing activities with the lioness. We simply had too many lions against our arrival. For a full 5 minutes, there was absolute silence as each party looked deep and hard into the eyes of the other. Trying to read the intent of either, we starred long and hard. I could feel my thunderous pulse as through my heart had moved into my arms and ears. Our fear was worsened by the fact that we were riding in an open vehicle and the lions would have had no trouble taking us out …. one by one.

Deceitful distraction
The African lion has this uncanny behaviour when faced by such an intense gridlock. It simply looks aside as if something else more urgent got its attention, while keeping you within its visual sphere. This serves two purposes, one is to disarm you by trying to distract your stare and secondly to cleverly provide a leeway to the impasse and hostility created by locking eyes in an imminent confrontation. When faced by a formidable enemy who it cannot translate to food, the African lion will never attack if you have your eyes locked. One cannot be too cautious; “you never know what surprise these humans can spring… a club, machete or worse even….a bloody gun”.

The day is saved
A relief to this situation came from the other two young, small maned lions who noticed their chances of contesting for the lioness, had just gone from worse to impossible…..there were just too many of us for their liking. They casually strolled of with their heads high and into underbrush. It took the older male Lion about five minutes to be reassured that we posed no threat to his mating advances to the lioness. Usually, the most dangerous situations to be caught in are between a mating pair or a lioness with its cubs. The King lion proceeded to mate with the female unperturbed by our presence; like we never existed…. and if we did then he was seeing things or could as well have been blind. “A lion’s got to do what a lion got to do….you want to stay and watch… well that’s your problem”

We finally decided that we needed to give them their space and started to drive off. The dominant king lion must have thanked us for making his competition from the other two go away. But just as we started off we heard excited human voices and knew they were headed for certain disaster. We revved off our car towards the noises and found four Maasai women chatting animatedly as they made a beeline to a river, 100m between them and the mating lions.

Maasai co-exist with the wildlife

We were about to leave when I noticed their surprised look. Like we didn’t understand that lions are part of their life. Like we needed not to have bothered them with the obvious. That’s when I realized how much the Maasai have learnt the art of co-existence with the wildlife. I wouldn’t have been amazed if they had walked right passed us, as we watched the lions like there was no danger. I imagine them walking in between us and the pride, chatting and laughing at this group of tourists huddled silently, scarred stiff and almost immobilized by the sheer might of the African lion at a mating contest.

The million dollar gaze of the lion

This was an experience that I always relive when I look at the photos taken on that safari. It’s what an African lion safari does to you. You get to be in the presence of his highness the majesty king of the Jungle…in his tuff. Nothing beats that glaring look and the thrill that goes with it when your eyes lock into his menacing, unblinking and threatening stare…That’s the African lion stare….humbling it is.

African Lion coming of age

The African lion matures at the age of 4-5 years. A fully grown male lion has a very dark mane while the youth grow a mane gradually, which then darkens as they progress in age. The males are pushed off their families when they become sexually mature by the king of the pride. African Lions usually sleep and rest for 16hours a day only getting up to hunt in the early mornings, late evenings and at night. Usually the King-lion of the pride commands between 5-10 lionesses including the cubs. This male will aggressively protect its territory against intruding males who contest for the females.

Overthrowing the Lion King

There are a lot of coup d`e’tat in the lion kingdom and the male constantly gets into territorial wars with invading lions. Once in a while a female becomes disenchanted and leaves the pride to seek out younger and more aggressive males. Once a lion has successfully overthrown a dominant male, they set upon establishing their kingdom immediately by making the females submissive. How they do this is what will surprise you.

Conqueror males kill all Cubs
One of the most bizarre behaviour of lions is that a conqueror male often kills all young cubs fathered by the defeated former king lion of the pride. The lioness will fight, sometimes to death, when the male lion goes for her cubs. There are two reasons for this behaviour, one is to establish a lineage of his own and secondly to as quickly as possible make the females come to oestrus and ready to mate. It’s always a rush before other male lions come to undermine his authority over the pride.

Traveling to the Maasai Mara –Kenya

On arrival in Nairobi, one is picked up by his tour operator for an overnight stay at the city’s many five star Hotels. It’s always advisable to have a night rest before embarking on to the Mara; if you are to enjoy your game drives. The next morning you drive about 400km to the Mara in either a 4x4 or a minivan and you are booked into many of the world class lodges in the Game Reserve. You will be entitled to at least 2 game drives a day and you will be surprised at the animals you will see immediately outside the gate to your lodge…That’s Mara for you.

The wonder that is the Mara
Elephants graze 1 metre off your game drive tracks, cheetahs will stare at you seated majestically under tree trunks and occasionally jump on the hood of your car for that vantage view point for prey, a herd of a thousand buffalos will gaze at you all at once with over 2,000 eye balls, lions will sprawl for an hour underneath your van for the shade and wildebeest will gallop past your car in their millions as they head for the breath taking river crossings packed with crocodiles and strong currents. (See previous articles and shots on the great wildebeest migration at: , )

An experience worth its weight in platinum. Please email this article to friends who enjoy wildlife in the Wild.

About the Author: Robert is a tour consultant in Kenya and has planned business and vacation safaris for over 10,000 tourists in the East African region. He is a tour operation- major and involved in National tourism policy development in Kenya.

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