The Serengeti is without a doubt any budding wildlife photographer’s dream destination – none more so than mine. While I was fortunate enough to witness the tail end of the migration on a recent visit to the park, what excited me more was stumbling across a small group of lions and their cubs just as myself and my two safari companions were about to leave the park.
Here’s what I wrote about the encounter in my journal:
Without warning our driver brought the Land Rover to a screeching halt just metres short of a large lion, which had suddenly emerged from the tall grass at the side of the road. Eyeing the lion carefully as it roared its disapproval, the driver eased the vehicle into reverse and almost started moving when he noticed that a lioness and her cubs now filled the rear view mirror. Moments ago I had been despairing that I would leave the Serengeti without ever having spied a lion. Now as I reached excitedly for my camera I felt like I was caught in the middle of a National Geographic wildlife special.
Just as I took the snap the lion leapt into the high grass on the other side of the road, disappearing as quickly as it had appeared. Meanwhile the mother and her three cubs, unconcerned by our presence, slowly meandered up the right-hand side of the vehicle.
“Look, there’s another one,” our driver, William, announced excitedly. We followed his gaze and caught sight of a second large female coming out of the grass behind us. Stalking past our car, she trailed the other lioness and her cubs as they continued their way up the dirt road in front of us.
“Lots of Simba,” William smiled pleased with himself for having finally stumbled across the prey my safari companions and I had so eagerly sought. Earlier that morning he had warned us that our chances of spying lion were slim given that they’re normally nocturnal creatures and as it was mid-summer would usually spend up to 20 hours a day sleeping to conserve energy. But as we had just discovered, lions can become active any time, especially when easy opportunities to catch prey arise.
“I think they’re heading for the kopie,” William said pointing to a rocky outcrop just up ahead. “There’s a tree there and they’ll want to get out of the sun,” he added. As if on cue the small pride turned off the road and made for the shade of a large acacia tree. William then quickly slipped the Land Rover into gear and gradually drew the vehicle closer.
Fortunately the tree was not far from the road, and as I emerged through the pop-top roof of the 4WD I was able to zoom in and watch the lions as they gathered at its base. To my astonishment, one of the cubs suddenly scrambled up the tree and nestled itself lazily in a comfortable crook between its branches. While I was well-aware of the tree-climbing lions at Lake Manyara National Park, I had never heard of lions climbing trees in the Serengeti. As I trained my lens on the cute cub, another one clamoured up and playfully vied with its sibling for the obviously much-sought-after position.
“I didn’t think the lions here climbed the trees,” I exclaimed clicking off a frame.
“They don’t normally,” William replied, “but at certain times of the year, like now when the flies are bad, they climb the trees to get away from them.”
I certainly wasn’t being bothered by any flies and couldn’t see any milling around the lions and their cubs, but I wasn’t about to argue with his explanation. Instead I happily snapped away as the two cubs continued with their mischievous antics, looking devilishly more endearing with every shot I took. I could have sworn it was all an act for the camera!
Just then two more safari vehicles, having seen our discovery, drew up behind us. Throughout most of our three-day safari we’d fortunately managed to elude the crowds that tend to congregate around the Serengeti’s large, “must see” animals. But now as the two vehicles jostled with us for a better view and another could be seen in the distance racing towards us, it appeared the crowds had found us.
Noticing the time, William reminded us that we needed to leave in any case as we had a long drive ahead of us back to. Reluctantly we put our cameras down and climbed back through the vehicle’s pop-top roof into our seats. But as the dust hung in the air as we drove out of the park I was elated. Seeing a pride of lions on our last day on safari was a real thrill – this was definitely the image I came to Africa for!
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