The breathtaking moments of watching lions on safari in Africa
Lions. Are. Awesome. You probably already knew that. However, when it comes to seeing lions on safari in Africa, forget all you know. Seeing these big cats in their natural habitat is an event every time. We’ve repeatedly seen veteran safari guides visibly humbled by lion encounters.
When you get close to a lion in the wild, it’s a wonder-filled moment. You’re held in thrall, suspended in a world that consists of just you and one special animal, and this dimension simply does not exist in a zoo. The animal may be the same, but there’s an incomparable gravitas to seeing it in the environment where it must struggle to survive.
View a lion on safari, and on an unconscious level, you’ll process its exquisite appearance and dramatic relationship to its surroundings. You may come up on a pride sleeping under the shade of an acacia tree and be overcome by how endearing the scene is. But you also understand you’re witnessing more than a lazy afternoon nap. On an unspoken level, you know that the slumbering cats are storing their energy for an epic hunt.
Or, as you watch a group of lionesses intently stalking through tall grass, you might even feel the urgency of their primal hunger. And don’t even get us started on leopards.
What happens if you don’t see lions on safari in Africa
As breathtaking as seeing a lion on safari is, spotting them should be more than just a single-minded pursuit. If you’re preoccupied with seeing a big cat, or other Big Five animals, every time you set out on a game drive, you may unintentionally miscalculate the success rate of your journey.
When asked about their safari rives, people often say, “It was great! We saw four lions and two cheetahs!” Or, “It was good, but we didn’t see any rhinos or leopards.” This kind of scorekeeping fails to account for the numerous sightings that can be equally wondrous.
Often when visitors spot lions, the driver will cut the engine so that they can silently behold their splendor. We highly recommend directing this undivided attention to other, more “common” sights throughout your drive. Ask your driver to cut the engine at random intervals. Then sit stock still and observe the open plain. Feel it teeming with life. Listen to it. You’ve never quite “heard” silence like the quiet of the savanna.
The landscape in Uganda safari parks is playful—watch the “pumbas,” an animation-movie term for the famously skittish warthogs throughout African parks, who comically dash with their tails up like antennas at the slightest disturbance. The landscape can be poignant—witness the heart-wrenching vulnerability of a baby giraffe that has strayed too far from its mother.
Uganda safari wilderness can be stoic; see shaggy waterbuck, relatively fearless because lions rarely prey on them, blithely lounging in the grass, staring at you with practiced indifference. But most of all, the landscape is a wonderland with the subtle interplay of wildlife everywhere. Receive all it has to offer, and you’ll be well rewarded.
Getting the perfect shot
Three graceful giraffes, dwarfed by towering Mt. Kilimanjaro, bathed by the orange glow of the setting sun, are surveying the plains. Suddenly, all three giants turn to look straight at you, practically mugging for the camera, and click. You got it: an image you’ll cherish, a picture worth a thousand words, and 8,000 miles of travel.
Sure, tons of professional images of African wildlife put your lucky shot to shame. But this is your special moment; you own it, and a particular pride comes with every image you capture.
Your pictures document your trip through a highly personal lens. Perhaps, this is why the exact same scene captured with superior contrast ratio and composition doesn’t inspire nearly as strong a reaction. When you get your “perfect” shot on your safari drive, there’s personal poetry that can’t be duplicated by anybody else’s camera. Your pictures tell your story.
What happens when you don’t get the perfect shot?
The problem with the perfect shot is how much time you can spend viewing your surroundings through a tiny LCD screen to get it. Although you may never have another chance to photograph the gaping maw of a giant hippo as he suddenly rises from the river, you may also never get another chance to experience that moment.
Too often, folks on Africa safari witness spectacles unfold not before their very eyes (or even through binoculars) but through a tiny screen—waiting for fauna to fall into place, waiting to capture the best action shot. It’s somewhat disorienting to consider that you can be in Africa (Africa!), alternating your gaze between the digital image you’re trying to capture and the one that you just took.
The splendid rise of a silverback from his slumber deep in the impenetrable forest of Bwindi on a gorilla trek or the impressive leaps of Karamojong warriors are singularly unique events that shouldn’t be witnessed solely through a single-lens reflex.
Before you know it, your firsthand experiences will seem nebulous, and your memories prematurely dim, leaving you with a succession of moments that can only be recalled through photos and video. Set up your shots, take lots of pictures; they’re precious. But more remarkable is the full-sensory, romantic experience that can only be achieved by unencumbered engagement with your surroundings.
Going on a safari sundowner
Many of the recommendations above are variations on “be in the moment”—based on the notion that because African safaris are exhilarating adventures with a raft of stimuli, it sometimes takes a concentrated effort to drink in the here and now.
Well, quite literally, there’s nothing like a sundowner to help you drink it all in. The recipe is simple:
- Take one particularly scenic spot, often with vistas that span country borders and stretch to distant mountains.
- Add your choice of cocktails.
- Watch the sun drench what seems like half of Africa in various hues of orange and pink.
Most luxury and semi-luxury camps offer this supernal show, which you shouldn’t miss. They often set you up with director’s chairs, which is appropriate, because it’s here, in the fading light, as tranquillity envelopes the land, that you feel in charge—fully recharged.
Raise a glass and toast your glorious day—”to the Pearl of Africa!”—as the African sun makes its graceful exit.