World Lion Day
It is personal, I know. Beverly and I were involved in the design of World Lion Day. It also falls on famous wildlife artist and lion lover Keith Joubert’s birthday, someone who introduced me early on in my childhood to the sheer joy of those spine-chilling calls as they rattled the screws in our old beaten-up truck.
I grew up looking at pug marks in the sand, trying desperately to test myself and tell just how long ago the cats had moved through the landscape. I later learned under the tutorship of Alfaas Mbongela, Shangaan lion tracker extraordinaire. We worked at the Chobe Lion Research Institute, our first foray into Botswana. We delved deeper through long nights with lions and understood the rivalry between them and hyenas as eternal enemies.
Each year a new part of the great lion story unveils itself, yet we still don’t really know lions, probably the most well-researched animal in Africa. Without lions, much of the intact biodiversity in savanna ecosystems unravel. They are much more than the iconic large-maned rulers of the plains. They are the glue that keeps it all together.
So, on World Lion Day, it feels appropriate to imagine the finest lion safari, which would go like this: Start in Botswana at our Selinda or Zarafa Camp, where five males recently had a run-in with a hippo, the video going viral, a coalition that just fifteen years ago would have been impossible to imagine until the areas went fully photographic, and who are offspring of the cubs in Birth of Pride.
Fly to Duba Explorers Camp by helicopter for an overview of the lionscapes and to be with lions on the water’s edge. Boat to Duba Plains to spend time with the swimming Okavango lions from National Geographic’s The Last Lions.
A reasonable flight to Kenya’s either Mara Plains, Mara Nyika, Mara Expedition Camp or Mara Toto – all a stable of camps with different access to different lions and their pride. Then off to ol Donyo Lodge, where the lions have done exceptionally well over the past 12 years due to serious conservation efforts to recover them with predator compensation, the Maasai Olympics – these initiatives with our partner NGO, Big Life Foundation. Here the film Tribe v Pride was filmed.
The ultimate lion safari – from water to dry country, to lions hunting large buffalo, to darting opportunists as the wildebeest come through.
Thank you for the early passion you instilled in me (brother,) the art of tracking (my friend,) and the dedication of so many scientists and conservationists who struggle to keep the lion story alive against all odds. At around 20,000 lions left, we have to gather as many collaborators as possible.
This is the very reason the Great Plains Foundation Big Cats Initiative exists.