Where to see lions in AfricaMarch 13, 2018
Worldwide symbols of power, courage, and strength, seeing wild lions while on safari is a privilege, but not a guarantee.
Aptly named the ‘King of Beasts’, lions are an iconic African wildlife species and are often high up on many travelers’ list of things to see when visiting Africa. However, despite their popularity with tourists, they are not as common as one might imagine. A century ago there were as many as 200,000 wild lions in Africa. However, today lions have disappeared from 80% of their historic natural range in Africa and the population is estimated to be between 15,000 and 32,000. For the best chance of seeing lions in the wild, it would be advisable to head to one of Africa’s ‘lion hotspots’.
Here are a few of the top places to see wild lions in Africa:
1. Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem
Stretching over 24,000km² from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Masai Mara in Kenya, the Serengeti-Mara Ecosystems is home to one of the highest densities of lions in the world. Within this area, the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is arguably the best place to see wild lions. The park boasts the oldest lion research project in Africa, The Serengeti Lion Project, which has been operating for nearly 50 years.
Another great place for seeing lions is the wide-open savannah plains of the Masai Mara Reserve in Kenya. Here, the lion prides are famous for being documented by the BBC in the popular TV series called Big Cat Diaries, and can often be found in large prides.
The Ngorongoro Crater is also worth visiting for its huge lion population, as well as the Sealous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania and Lake Manyara, which is famous for its tree-climbing lions.
2. Northern Botswana
From the semi-arid desert area of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Savute to the lush wetlands of the Okavango Delta, the lions in Northern Botswana successfully dwell in a wide range of habitats.
These lions have adapted to their varied environments and have the wide range of large prey species, including hippo and buffalo – all very unusual items to be found on a lion’s dinner menu. Some of the best lion sightings in Botswana are in the Savute-Chobe National Park, where prides have even been seen hunting elephants. In the Okavango, the lions are experts at negotiating the channels and floodplains in order to hunt and there are two prides in the Duba Plains area that prey solely on buffalo herds.
3. Greater Kruger National Park
The Greater Kruger National Park is South Africa’s premier wildlife destination and is home to the majority of the country’s wild lions. The park is approximately the size of Wales and encompasses the Kruger National Park and spans across unfenced borders into a number of smaller, adjoining reserves, including Klaserie, Balule Game Reserves, Sabi Sand and the Timbavati, famous for its naturally occurring population of white lions.
Due to the expansive size of the park, the distribution of the lions is subject to the climate in the area. Southern and central Kruger has better vegetation, meaning more animals around for the lions to hunt, making this the best place to spot lions in Kruger.
4. Northern Namibia
Namibia is home to a very special population of desert-adapted lions. Found exclusively in the Northern areas of Etosha, the Kunene Region (formerly known as Damaraland), Kaudom Game Reserve, parts of the Tsumkwe Districts and the Caprivi Region, there are estimated to be between 600-800 lions in Namibia.
The best time to view the desert-adapted lions is during the dry winter season (June to October). During this time, they can often be found hunting around the sparse water sources or lazing about in the open road, soaking up the morning sun.
5. Luangwa Valley
Zambia’s reserves and national parks are home to a significant proportion of Africa’s lion population, the majority of which can be found in the Luangwa Valley. Within the valley, the South Luangwa National Park offers some incredible lion viewing opportunities, with sightings of prides of up to 30 lions at a time.
The area is also the birthplace of walking safaris; a very special wildlife experience for any nature lover. In central Zambia, the Kafue Flats National Park is known for its tree-climbing lions. Remote and wild, the Luangwa Valley is less crowded than the more famous parks such as Ngorongoro and Masai Mara, giving travellers a wildlife experience to enjoy all to themselves. And who would say ever no to some alone time with the pride?
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