This is more for the first-time safari-goer, so if you have been to the bush a couple of times, you’ll probably already know it.
Lions sleep a lot.
This is common knowledge. Most people coming to Africa will have read that lions sleep up to 20 hours a day. True. Recent camera trap surveys across the Sabi Sand Reserve that were aimed at establishing the density of the leopard population also captured photos of other mammals, lions included, and what the data revealed was that these apex predators are far more crepuscular than people realised (active at dawn and dusk).
A lot of people imagine the lions are active throughout the night, and yes, sometimes they might be. But for something to sleep for 20 hours a day, you have to ask yourself when exactly is it putting in the time? When lions get moving in the evening, what generally happens is that they will end up sleeping again within a couple of hours. Then just before the first francolin gives its early morning call, they’ll be up and at ’em again, on the hunt. This makes a lot of sense, as we’ll regularly find lions feeding at dawn on something they’ve just taken down. Thinking that they wandered the whole night looking for something to hunt is a fallacy.
In fact, they don’t often move all that far. They – like many other predators – are highly territorial, and for the most part confine their movements to specific areas. Territory size will usually – I imagine – depend largely on prey availability, and on Londolozi and its surrounds, there is an abundance of herbivores, so prides don’t have to cover big distances to find hunting opportunities. We’ll regularly find them within a kilometre or two of where they were the evening before. Males might move considerably further on their territorial patrols, but a brisk walk on four legs can carry them quite quickly, and you are unlikely to find a male on a forced march in one direction throughout 10 hours of darkness.
What I’m getting at here is that lions are fairly sedentary animals, a fact belied by the unbelievable footage one sees on Nat Geo or the Discovery Channel. And I’m not trying to sound negative, but it’s something one has to accept when coming to Africa to hopefully view them.
When they’re on song – hunting, fighting, or even just walking across a clearing – it is literally the COOLEST thing you can see in the bush. Give me an epic lion sighting over a crazy leopard sighting every time! And I think it’s because they’re so sedentary that any movement from them is so exciting. Just seeing their tracks in the morning elevates my heart rate; it implies that they do move around from time to time.
A few nights ago we were out with the Ntsevu pride and Birmingham males. Having 23 (yes, twenty three!) lions walk past your Land Rover in the darkness, within touching distance, with their footfalls the only sound, is utterly exhilarating.
Have them make a kill, or chase something, or fight each other, and it’s like that scene from Pulp Fiction when Uma Thurman gets a needle of adrenalin or whatever it was injected into her heart. It’s excitement cranked up well over the red line!
So, then… lions.
Most of the time they do nothing. But if you stick around for long enough, and the action heats up, it’ll be like nothing you’ve ever experienced, and you’ll be riding that high for days!