What It’s Like The First Time You Spot A Lion In Africa

Thursday, March 7, 2013


One of the sad parts about going on safari is the speed at which you become desensitized to what would otherwise be an incredible viewing experience anywhere else in the world. For example, during my own mini-safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, the first animal my small group encountered was a small gathering of impala — a medium-sized antelope originating from the continent of Africa. All of us clambered to the edge of the vehicle with cameras in tow to capture their image for the next 10 minutes while our driver sleepily slunk into his chair, enjoying a few moments of rest during this ungodly early hour of the morning.

What he knew, and what we’d find out soon enough, is that the impala in Kruger is what the pigeon is to New York City. In other words, not much to get worked up about, as we were about to encounter impala basically everywhere we went, including our campsite, during our game drives, near the restaurant where we would have lunch and pretty much anywhere else we went in search of other animals.

However, of the other animals we encountered — giraffes, wildebeests, cape buffalos, grey and white rhinos, elephants, bats, hyenas — the one animal we nor anyone else I knew never got tired of seeing was the lion. In fact, one finds that much of their day is spent in search of lions, with guides radioing each other as to their last sighting, park maps with magnetic markers indicating recent viewings, and even the occasional traffic jam as multiple vehicles bottleneck on the same narrow roadway as a lion or two is spotted.

The Sydney Morning Herald recently went on safari to Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a region famed for its wildlife offerings. Undoubtedly, the delta is one of the premier spots in Africa to go on safari.

Unlike some of its neighbours, Botswana has pursued a low-impact, high-cost approach to tourism. The Okavango Delta operates like a big nature reserve. There are about 60-odd camps in the 17,000-square-kilometre area and any safari operator who obtains a permit is only allowed to build semi-permanent structures that can be dismantled in a day or two.

In Africa, water equals animals, so naturally the Okavango Delta is a premier spot to see all sorts of wildlife. And like true love and one’s first encounter with the Shamrock Shake, your first encounter with a lion is truly a memorable experience, as the author recounts. “The spell that seemed to come over me during the encounter is broken. I breathe easily again. This is my first meeting with the king of the jungle in the wild and although it lasts only a few minutes, I am overwhelmed. I am in Africa, I am in the midst of nature’s stunning creations, and I feel alive in a way I have never felt before.”

My own encounter included a mother with six cubs whom we ran into every day in the morning as she led her cubs on morning hunts. Sadly enough, by the last day, the number of her cubs had been reduced to five, with no indication of what happened to the sixth sibling. Heartbreaking, yes, but this is Africa in its truest form.

[Okavango Delta by Joachim Huber/Flickr]

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