Friday, August 8, 2014

AFRICA: MAASAI MARA LIONS (KENYA)

This post is about lions. Lots of lions. It's another one of those posts that needs some musical accompaniment. The obvious choice is "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," recorded by The Tokens in 1961 and re-recorded in the mid-90s for the Disney movie The Lion King. I have one question: Why do the lyrics say, "In the JUNGLE, the mighty JUNGLE, the lion sleeps tonight?"  Maybe because "savannah" has too many syllables and "veld" doesn't have enough? Anyway, betcha didn't know that this song was originally recorded by a South African Zulu singer/composer named Solomon Linda. (If you are interested in the original version, a recording can be found here.) I did not make the video below and I don't think all the pictures in it are of Africa, but it's still fun to watch.


And one more thing. Guess what the Swahili word for "lion" is. Simba!

All ready?  Okay. Here we go.

In addition to the wildebeest migration that occurs annually, the Maasai Mara is known for its large cat population--lions, cheetahs, and leopards. We were fortunate to see quite a few lions. The first eleven pictures are from our first day in the Mara.

The shiny, tawny coats of the lioness and her cubs are perfect camouflage when they are playing in the tall, amber-colored grass:




At first glance you see just the lioness, but look carefully and you'll see two or three cubs behind her:

I think the crater-like depression in which the lioness is standing in the picture below could be a den of sorts--either a vacated hyena den or maybe just a dip in the ground that serves as a hiding place for the cubs. Sometimes the cubs would disappear into it, and they were often playing around it. By the way, did you notice the four cubs concealed in the grass behind the lioness?

This lion was coolly indifferent towards the humans and all their machinery, and the humans were engrossed in something on the other side of the vehicle and oblivious anyway:
All together now:

Sister wives?

The lioness in the photo below looks a little skinny, her ribs a bit too clearly defined under her coat. (On the other hand, I'd like abs like that.) Maybe she wasn't getting quite enough to eat.
It is typical for two lionesses to hunt in tandem, the first one scaring game in the direction of the other, the second one making the kill. However, rather than calling in the kittens and eating the prize themselves, they wait for the male lion to roust himself from his nap so that he can munch on the premium parts of the animal first. Sometimes the lionesses even drag the kill to where the male is. I guess that's like feeding your husband in front of the TV rather than waiting for him to come sit at the table.

Our second day in the Mara was even better than the first. We happened upon a full-sized pride with a bunch of little ones of various sizes and four full-grown females, two who were out hunting:

. . . and two who were on nursery duty:
Can you find the cubs in this picture?

Why did the lioness cross the road?
To give the safarites (safarians?) a Kodak moment, of course!
For the most part, the pride was sticking close together:

Photo by J. Mirau
. . . until one troublemaker decided to play chicken with one of our Land Cruisers. He knows there is a rule that drivers can't interfere with game in any way, including honking the horn:
Pretty soon a few of his buddies decided to join in the fun:

Mama lion finally decided to go check on the children:

The lionesses in a pride don't differentiate between another lion's cubs and their own. The cubs nurse from whomever is nearest, and the mothers treat all babies equally. This pride had babies of varying sizes . . .
. . . four bigger ones and four small ones:


Photo by M. Edwards
We never saw a male lion hanging out with the cubs. We saw them alone, with other males, and with a single female--but not with the kids.

Photo by M. Edwards
In another part of our drive, we saw the two other lionesses hunting in the veld. We watched them for a while, but we didn't see the kill. When we came back a little later, however, they had just taken down a zebra. At first we thought they were eating it, but they were just setting the table for the king.
Photo by M. Edwards
The male lion gets the prime portions, as noted earlier. It did look like these two had taken a chunk off the rump, but not much, and some organs were pulled out of the belly but not eaten. They dragged the zebra a few feet, laid it out,
Photo by M. Lewin
and waited for His Majesty to arrive.
Photo by M. Edwards

VIEWING:

The Big Cat Diary is an excellent BBC series that first aired in 1996. Each season follows a lion pride, a cheetah family, and a leopard family. The first season was so popular that there have been eight more series, plus a few specials. Picked up by Animal Planet, the shows have also been very well-received in the United States.
Bob and I are streaming individual episodes on Netflix. Filmed in the Maasai Mara, the sights look very familiar to us. One of the many things I love about Big Cat Diary is that the filming shows how the animals disregard the vehicles and their occupants, relaxing, walking, and even hunting right next to them. That's really how it was for us. It was as if our vehicle were a tree or a large rock.
If you are planning a trip to Kenya or have been on one, you will love The Big Cat Diary and Big Cat Week (the name of the series in 2006-2008).

6 comments:

  1. It kinda makes you wonder what the whole point of the male lion is. Well, other than his part in those cute cubs. I wonder how hard it is for some of those starving mothers to pass the food to him first.

    The camouflage in the grass is impressive.

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  2. So the top on your Land Rovers pops up? That's very cool. Okay enough on the cars.

    What a day of sightings! So much to see and so many cubs and mammas. While I could spot many of the cubs, I wonder if it weren't easier when the grasses or they were moving. Funny episode about them parking themselves in the middle of the road--did you go around them? Or just wait?

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  3. Watching the lion cubs interact with their mothers was one of the highlights, as well as the lion kill of the zebra. Amazing we could get so close to them.

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  4. Letterpress, we just had to wait. The drivers aren't supposed to go off the road, although they did a couple of times. We didn't mind watching for a while--they were such cute little kitties!

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  5. You know that I am Letterpress, right?

    :) Elizabeth

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