Lions in Africa are undoubtedly under extreme threat. For those seeking an experience much deeper in terms of understanding, and would like to help conservation efforts, there are several unique experiences I can wholly recommend.
The lion is still widely regarded as the undisputed King of the African bush and invariably, no safari is complete without having seen one! It is the only cat that lives in a social group and can be observed hunting and playing in their prides.
My own favourite part of watching lions is the fascination when they hunt on a co-operative basis; the glance between the lionesses that mark their next collaborative move, how they move in tune with each other and ultimately share the prize.
They are the quintessential African predator – beautiful, regal and intelligent. Yet overall numbers have alarmingly declined in Africa, from 100 000 in the early 1990s to around 22 000 today.
Sadly the conflict between local herders and lions continues, although there are a number of conservation and educational projects in place. One area of great success is the introduction of ‘Maasai Olympics’, an event created to dissuade the local warriors from killing a lion as part of their historic rite of passage when becoming a warrior, instead allowing them to prove their prowess as warriors through an organised sporting competition.
Nevertheless, wild lions have now disappeared from over 95% of their historic range. This is mainly due to the ever-present human wildlife conflict, with burgeoning populations reducing historic, vital lion territory.
However, the good news is that there are a number of properties and organisations in Africa that have made a great difference to the lion population in their regions, through a wide range of conservation practices.
The countries in Africa with the highest populations of lion are Tanzania (8000), followed by South Africa (2070), Kenya (1825) and Zimbabwe (1709). A very good reason to travel to Africa to see this magnificent creature, whilst it is still there!
Yet many responsible travellers these days are looking for something deeper from a safari than simply ticking a list or taking a photograph. Their thirst for knowledge about these magnificent beasts, their existence, their behaviour and their future for survival holds far more interest.
To this end, I can thoroughly recommend including the below organisations or properties in your safari, in order to help their conservation efforts and learn more at the same time:
Campi Ya Kanzi in the Chyulu Hills in Kenya and Shu’Mata in Tanzania: through great effort and donations have made a difference to the lion populations in their regions through education and monitoring. The lion populations have stabilised and then begun to increase.
Zakouma National Park in Chad is one of the most beautiful, pristine parks you will ever visit and they have an excellent lion population. On my last safari there I could hear lions calling to each other at night, then two lionesses paused to rest right in front of my tent, while I held my breath and marvelled at my luck at being able to witness their presence.
Safari with a lion conservation researcher: This is a non-touristy experience with a lion scientist which could take place, for example, in the Laikipia region in Kenya. For a donation, you can have an exhilarating experience, obtaining information that you would never normally have access to on a safari.
With sufficient notice, it may even be possible to include a collaring exercise, should there be a lion requiring it for conservation purposes. The lions are collared so that the researchers can follow their tracks and determine their movements, collating information and giving prior warning when they are nearing villages, all of which is vital to their survival.
Spend time with Dr Siefert in Uganda: my great friend Dr Ludwig Siefert works tirelessly to protect lion in Queen Elizabeth National Park. He is a fabulous veterinarian and founder of the Uganda Carnivore Project. Here, for a donation, you can go out with him into QENP to learn about the lions and leopard that he protects, and the continual challenges that he faces. Importantly, you are doing such good in helping him to continue his incredible life saving work, which ensures the future of the predators in this park.
Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe: learn about the lion projects in place to protect the local villagers and their livestock in communities surrounding the Park. Here the lions are given collars and members of the village are given an early warning system, which protects not only people, but their livestock and ultimately the lives of the lions themselves.
Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania has 10% of the entire lion population of Africa residing in this one park. It is the second largest park in the country, with just a handful of lodges, which makes it without doubt probably the most desirable park to visit in Africa.
You can either go on a walking safari or a traditional safari by open vehicle, or even have a combination of the two, which would be my suggestion.
In Namibia, spend around 5 days with Dr Stander tracking desert-adapted lions. A private, mobile camp is erected as you search for lion and learn all about from one of the foremost researchers in Africa. This is simply fabulous and transcends a good safari to an extraordinary one.
Finally, each year I arrange just one or two very special safaris for a small number of likeminded people to travel with the world’s experts on predators. This year there is the exclusive opportunity to take part in a wild dog safari to Zimbabwe in July. The safari is led by Dr Rosemary Groom, a world expert on wild dog, and wild dog professional wildlife photographer Nick Dyer.
Please do feel free to contact me if you would like to find out more about lion safaris in Africa and how you can help lion conservation. Or, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.
Images by kind courtesy of Kichaka Expeditions Tanzania, Uganda Carnivore Project and Maureen Kirk.