Watching Lions

Lioness, Botswana

Lion at sunset, Botswana

Every single moment of watching lions is a privilege. The pure power of this animal is inspiring. It is easy to see why they are one of the most widely recognized animal symbols in human culture.

 

They are not, however, really kings of the forest, as the saying goes, because lions don’t live in forests. They live primarily in grassy plains and open woodlands, in sub-Saharan Africa. (See map at end.)

 

Panthera leo are as ferocious as we are led to believe, and are skilled hunters and scavengers. Even a simple yawn, like in the photo below, has us shaking in our safari boots.

 

Lioness yawning, Africa

In general, female lions do most of the hunting and protect the cubs; males establish territory and maintain dominance. But there are differences among prides.

 

Groups of female lions often hunt together. Their prey varies depending on where they live.

 

Lion cub with siblings, Botswana

 

In the Serengeti, my favorite place to watch lions, the prides generally hunt the common ungulates: impala, wildebeest and zebra.

 

During the day you may find the lions under a shade tree, or resting on rocky outcroppings or kopjes (pronounced “copies”).

Overview of kopje, Serengeti. Photo: Athena Alexander.

Lion cubs, Serengeti. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

In Botswana’s Chobe National Park, where large populations of elephants live, lion prides are known to hunt elephants, which is unusual. They target younger, more vulnerable elephants or very old bulls, near Savute.

 

Lioness, Botswana

 

There’s a good reason juvenile elephants stay close to their mothers.

Elephant juvenile, Botswana

 

In the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, one of my favorite places on earth, different animals populate this enclosed crater than on the open plains. For example, no impalas live here.

 

We watched this lioness stalking four buffalo at the Ngorongoro Crater. She is calculating the energy cost and distance factors here. We waited about a half hour to see what she would do.

Lioness, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, Africa

 

She aborted the attempt.

Buffalo seem like an animal not to trifle with….

Buffalo, Africa

 

Lions are heavy animals and relatively low to the ground. They can’t sprint like a cheetah, and they don’t have a big heart for long runs, like a hyena.

 

Instead, lions take their prey by surprise, the attack is short and powerful. They leap and pounce, pull the animal down by the rump, then deliver a strangling, fatalistic bite to the throat.

 

Most of the time they hunt at night. Often we would see the effects of a night of lion-hunting at dawn. Successful lions have noticeably full bellies, and are often seen lazing beside a water hole, or sleeping. Other lions might be licking a gash or nursing a wound.

 

At night we heard big booming roars that electrified the vast darkness. Roars can be heard from five miles (8 km) away.

 

This fully mature male shows signs of numerous fights on his scarred face.

Lion, Botswana. Photo: Athena Alexander.

 

Lions are also great scavengers. They will saunter onto a kill site where other animals are avidly engaged in devouring a dead animal and take over, as if it was theirs all along.

 

They will frequently respond to hyena calls, arriving at the scene of a hyena’s fresh kill. But hyenas are formidable and ferocious animals, too, and are not easily bullied, even by lions.

Spotted Hyena, Zambia

 

Lions are the only wild cat to have a social structure, and it is fascinating. Pride hierarchy differs from venue to venue, and local safari guides are always very familiar with each pride and its individual members. Guides enthusiastically tell you stories about the lion family as if it was their own flesh and blood.

 

Lion, Botswana

 

Lion Wikipedia.

 

With their piercing golden eyes, confident swagger, and feline agility, lions continue to be one of the most majestic animals on this planet.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos in the wild by Athena Alexander.

Lion Distribution. Red = historic, blue = present. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Lion populations continue to decline, mostly due to humans. If you are concerned, you can start by visiting here: African Wildlife Foundation on Lions 

 

70 thoughts on “Watching Lions

  1. Wonderful posting, Jet, full of so many fascinating facts and insights. Athena’s images were amazing. The lighting in so many of them was beautiful, gently illuminating the faces and bodies of these beautiful creatures. The close-up portraits were particularly stunning. Wow!

    • I appreciate your warm words and visit, Mike. It’s a great joy to share the lions with you. The close-ups are a great treat for Athena, as you can imagine, when the lions happen to walk near the vehicle. Thanks so much, Mike.

  2. Good afternoon, Jet.

    I love Cats, big and small….and so almost jumped for joy when I saw this post. They are such magnificent creatures and yet when I see the cubs, I want to pick them up and give them a cuddle…..I do know better:). Thank you for this post. You have made my day Janet X

    • I agree, Janet, those cubs are so loveable, even if just to look at. Wonderful to have you stop by today. I’m looking forward to returning to Crickhowell to see more of your virtual tour. Have a pleasant weekend, my friend.

  3. Amazing pictures, must have been an experience of adrenaline and awe being there in the vicinity of these beasts.
    They look great btw and the shots are clear too. 👌

  4. These pictures are awe-inspiring! I especially loved the majestic portraits, the first Lioness, Botswana and the Lion, Botswana. Thanks for all the interesting info about them. What a treat it must have been to see the lions in person and listen to the safari guides tell you about their personalities and relationships.

    • Yes, half the fun of the safari is being with knowledgeable guides who tell great stories while they’re spotting hidden wildlife a mile away. The other half is, yes, seeing the lions and other animals in person, observing what they’re doing, even if it’s just sleeping. Always a pleasure to share the adventures with you, Barbara, thanks for your visit.

    • It’s easy to see you on a safari, Susie. We save up for two years, so that’s the first step. As to your question about who, I recommend finding a company who spends as much time in the field as possible, and not the ones who guarantee the most beautiful bed and bar or primarily cultural events. Also, self-guided tours are missing half the fun, by not having a knowledgeable person to take you to secret hot-spots; and guides have an understanding of how to respect the animal’s need for space and other important aspects, which tourists often don’t know or care about. I hope you get a chance to pursue this dream. It was mine as a young girl, and changed my life immensely.

    • Lions always hit the top of the list, they’re so inspiring and beautiful. I’m really glad you enjoyed the lions today, Timothy, and I am always glad to see you.

  5. There are so many interesting bits and photos here. They are so intelligent, and that they recognize a particular sound of a Hyena’s call is an amazing logic they possess. If the guides know the lions that way, it seems they really care. If I can donate to a trustworthy charity for animals, it is good to know who among the options truly care & will use finances appropriately.

    • I enjoyed your comment, Dawn Renee, and am glad you liked the lion info and photos. There’s a lot of interesting info about them, it was narrow it down to fit into one small post. Glad you appreciated the link, too. And you’re right: that a lion can recognize a hyena call is amazing logic. My warmest thanks, dear lizard lover.

      • I too often lack editing skills for myself to keep posts shorter, you did superbly well omitting what I’m sure were other interesting things. Best wishes to the both of you

  6. an awesome post, Jet! Athena’s photos and your narratives are awesome. this brought me back to a Kenyan safari when i was based in Sudan in 1979. for me, it was an experience of a lifetime! thank you very much. take care and wish you a lovely weekend.

    • I so love knowing you lived in Sudan for a time, Wilma. I’m sure that was a true adventure. You sure have travelled a lot and enjoyed much of the world. And how fortunate that you were able to go on a safari in Kenya. Great to hear from you, as always.

      • i was stationed in Khartoum for six months and built a lot of lovely memories there. beautiful place and awesome people. thanks.

  7. Lions have that majestic look even when they aren’t trying to look that way. I found myself wishing they didn’t have to kill other animals to live, but then I saw the hyena, that often scavenges rather than kill their own, and I think I prefer the lions. Hyenas are smart but I don’t like them. They do clean up the mess, but I still don’t like them. This all comes from some stupid emotional bias, I know, but the photos of your animals in this post are all beautiful (even the hyena photo). Thanks for the informative write-up as well. Great post.

    • If you were to experience the gestalt of the African savannah, Anneli, I think you would see how beautiful and important each creature is. Thanks very much for your visit today, I’m happy I could share the beautiful lions with you.

  8. Your post made me feel as though I was transported back to Africa. Athena’s photos are magnificent. The tiny cub in Botswana looks very young. Any idea how old it might be? That compared to the scarred face of the adult male lion. What stories he could tell.
    Dave and I were just saying at breakfast how grateful we are to have had such wondrous adventures around the world. For now we shall bask in ours and others’ memories such as yours.

    • I am thrilled that the lion post helped transport you back to Africa, Sue. It was fun putting it together. I like that tiny cub in Botswana too, but have no idea who old it was when the photo was taken. And yes, quite a difference in the male faces from the newborn to the scarred one. Taking stock of the places we’ve been and adventures we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing is a great way to get through these home-bound times. I’m really glad you stopped by today, Sue, thanks so much. My best to both you and Dave….

  9. The photo of the lioness yawning made me yawn. Have you noticed that people yawn when they see someone else yawning? I didn’t know it worked with lions, too.

  10. Lions are powerful animals, I’m always awed when the male roars and it’s so loud that it’s almost unreal that an animal can emit such sound. It makes my sad when hunters kill the big cats. Most of my life I’ve lived with cats in my home. I love them. Great post, my friend. 🙂

    • I sure enjoyed your visit and comment, HJ, thank you. I agree with you about lion hunters. Hard to believe a person would take pleasure in killing this beautiful animal. Fortunately there’s a lot less of that these days, and most of us go to Africa to revere the lions. My warmest thanks, HJ.

  11. Wonderful images and information on these mighty cats. I do hope to safari someday. In my younger days when I was not so discerning, I had my photo taken with a cub at a local mall. It was thrilling, I must say.

    • Had to chuckle at your confession of having your photo taken with a lion cub, Eilene. You worded it well: “…when I was not so discerning.” Maturity has its advantages. I’m glad you enjoyed the lion post, and I, too, hope you get to go on a safari one day. Many thanks for your visit.

  12. I think (if I were lucky enough to go on a safari) that I would like a guide to keep me from being eaten by a lion. Funny how I don’t worry so much about an elusive cougar that roams the hills near us. ;D

    What utterly delightful memories and photos you two have accumulated. I bet they’re a comfort in these strange times we’re living.

    • Had fun with your comment, Gunta. Yes, guides are good for keeping us from being eaten by a lion. 🙂 Like when the safari vehicle falls into an unseen hole and we are rendered useless and trapped. Guides are trained to shoot, and keep a rifle in the vehicle in case of emergency. And I think you’re lucky to have a cougar roaming your hills. Glad to have shared the joys of our safaris, and yes, you are right, the photos and memories do come into play during this lockdown. Big smiles to you, and thanks.

  13. Wonderful account. What an experience this must have been– to witness these majestic cats, to watch them & to listen & to learn of their social patterns. Thank you much for sharing your adventure!

    • A great joy to share the lion times with you, Walt. It is truly a great joy to do as you say, watch and listen and learn from them. I appreciate your kind words and visit today. BTW I received your package, thank you, looking forward to soaking up your poetry. Cheers and congratulations, my friend.

    • Yes, you worded it well, Andrea, watching lions is thrilling. Even just watching one sleep, the in-and-out of breath, is a thrill. My warm thanks for your visit and words.

    • It is indeed exhilarating to watch the lions in the wild. But I never felt scared, and we were never close enough to endanger ourselves or the lions. It looks closer than we were, due to a very long and powerful camera lens. Really appreciate your visit, Bill, thanks so much.

  14. Fantastic post and images, Jet. A thrill to witness and be close to a pride of lions. We were in Chobe and it was a life changing experience. I can still remember how exciting it was when they strode past our jeep within arm’s reach. Thanks for all the great info – a pleasure to read.

    • Yes, we never forget the lion moments, Jane, and I’m so very glad you’ve had this opportunity. I loved Chobe, so much going on down by the Chobe river. I’m grateful for your lovely comment and visit, thanks so much Jane.

  15. I don’t know how I missed this when it was fresh, but I loved it. I accidentally unfollowed, then refollowed you back when you were tidepooling. Hope it’s all sorted out now.

    • I do recall you saying there might be a following hang-up, but hopefully you got it sorted out. Glad you enjoyed the lions post, Craig. I am honored that you visit regularly, thank you.

  16. Pingback: Watching Lions — Jet Eliot | huggers.ca

    • I am happy you enjoyed the cubs in the Serengeti, Anita. Wild cubs and the Serengeti are two photography subjects you can’t go wrong with. Thanks for your visit and comment.

  17. Fantastic lion photos and narrative, Athena and Jet. It’s always a thrill to see these majestic animals in the wild. The cubs are just adorable and that mature male’s face is so full of character. You can see that he’s really been through some stuff in his time. 😯

    • I agree, Sylvia, that old male’s face does have a lot of character. We came across him at sunset with his mate, and they were both so calm. I’m glad you enjoyed the lions today, and I really enjoyed your comment, thank you.

  18. So majestic! Can see why they’re the King of the Beasts. Interesting that the females seem to do most of the work, though! Listened to a few recordings of their roar. Pretty intimidating! Do the females roar, too?

    • Yes, Nan, it sure is easy to see why the lions are Kings of the Beasts. Funny, too, that the females do most of the work. I’m glad you listened to roar recordings, they’re definitely intimidating. Espec. in the black night. Yes, females have been known to roar, but mostly the males are the vocal ones. always a great pleasure to have you visit, and your comments are so appreciated…thank you.

  19. Wow! What a wonderful post, Jet! The words and photographs really captured the power and grace of these magnificent animals – not the same as being there (what adventures you have!) but an exciting armchair read. Thank you!
    We had a small big cat encounter last week, when a cougar was spotted on a sand bank overlooking our worksite at the trail we’re constructing. I didn’t see it. We pulled back to the trailhead, all safely accounted for, and took a long lunch – 25 hours! – to give the cougar time to clear the area. There’s a better understanding with our youth about why we’re so insistent on whistles, radios and working in small groups out there!

    • Oh how I loved hearing about your wild cat encounter at your worksite, pc. What a total thrill, but also alarming and a bit unnerving, no doubt. Espec. being responsible for a cadre of youth. Good that you had the precautions in place with the whistles and radios. Interesting that you work in small groups for safety, makes perfect sense. Many thanks for your contribution to the cat post, my friend.

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