When going on safari, almost everyone wants to see the “Big Five” which consists of the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and the Cape buffalo. The term “Big Five” originated from big game hunters referring to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt, but the term is also used by non-hunters and in the tourism industry today. Out of the five, the most popular would have to be the king himself. Seeing lions in the wild is such an awesome experience. Lions are one of the most dangerous predators in the world and while on safari, they are just a few feet away from you. At first, it can be nerve-racking seeing lions get that close especially since most safari vehicles are open but once you get comfortable with the idea, you will start to enjoy their presence.
During our stay in Hwange National Park, we got to see two different prides, both with cute little cubs. The adorable little guy above (with the two different colored eyes) was super curious and wasn’t afraid to get close to us. At one point, he was only a foot or two away from my side of the vehicle and I’ll be honest with you, I was a little on edge. I know adult lions are completely aware of safari vehicles, but little curious cubs might decide to check out what’s inside. Lyndon assured me that I would be fine, but the cub and I made eye contact which made my heart race a little bit!
What’s more exciting than seeing a pride of lions? Seeing them hunt! On one of our afternoon game drives, we saw a pride of lions relaxing at Ngamo Plains. They were all just laying around (which they do a lot) since they do most of their hunting in the evening or early morning when it’s cool outside especially in the summertime. But who else was also at Ngamo Plains? A herd of Cape buffaloes (hundreds of them) and some scattered wildebeests enjoying one of the watering holes. As the herd slowly made its way back to the forest, the lions took notice. They usually don’t hunt during the afternoon, but when your potential meal is right in front of you, you have to take a chance.
We saw the lionesses slowly start to stalk and oh man, it was so awesome. For such large animals, they are so sneaky and quiet. This was already a treat to see, but it got even better when one of the lionesses used our vehicle as cover. She stalked her way over and used our vehicle to shield herself from the Cape buffaloes and wildebeests. Lions are such smart animals. Safari vehicles are such a big part of their everyday life now that they use them to their advantage. I’ve seen pictures of cheetahs climbing on top of vehicles, much to the guests’ surprise, to get a better vantage point. Unfortunately, the lioness crept over a little too far and one of the Cape buffaloes saw her and started making a bunch of noise. Their cover was blown. Lions are not fast like cheetahs, they use the element of surprise and their pride to hunt. Once they realized that all eyes were on them, they went back to what they do best, relaxing. Fun fact, lions can sleep up to 20 hours a day!
We didn’t get to see a “kill” that afternoon, but on two separate mornings, we did get to see two different prides enjoy their breakfast. The “Stumpy Pride” named after their queen bee because of her stumpy tail killed a Cape buffalo while the other pride enjoyed a wildebeest.
As I mentioned above, one of the prides killed a wildebeest sometime during the evening and were just finishing up when we spotted them. The wildebeest was pretty much skin and bones as the last lioness got her share. You could see the vultures and jackals patiently waiting for her to finish so they can get their turn. It’s funny how there’s a nature hierarchy, and all the animals know where they stand within it. At last, the lioness with a full belly, left to join the rest of her pride as the vultures and jackals made their way to the carcass. In a weird turn of events, I guess the lioness didn’t feel like sharing and went back for the wildebeest, scaring off the scavengers. Then she started dragging the carcass with her all the way back to the rest of the pride! I guess it wasn’t a “sharing is caring” kind of day.
Lyndon told me multiple times during our trip that our trip was definitely not the norm. I was seeing things during my first ever safari that Lyndon never saw before or it took him years to finally see (and he’s been on countless safaris). Seeing lions stalk their prey and seeing them enjoy their kill on the same trip? I said it before, I’ll say it again… I was so incredibly lucky!
We had so many highlights during our trip that we actually made a list of all the cool stuff we saw so we wouldn’t forget anything when we got back to the States. Lions definitely made the list and I can’t wait to post about our other highlights, including a pretty crazy walking safari!