Closing out Big Cat month
Closing out Big Cat month at National Geographic, we have been swamped with requests for ideas on the ultimate Great Plains’ Big Cat Safari. So let’s dream.
Delta will soon be flying directly into Cape Town, so let’s start there. You settle into Ellerman House and ensure you are outfitted with everything you need for a safari, just as the original explorers to Africa did as they stepped off the ship. A little good wine tasting is in order too. Using our private planes, the journey from Cape Town to Botswana is easy, getting you into Duba Plains Camp around lunch and certainly enough time to head out in the afternoon.
Duba Plains used to be known for one thing: the lion buffalo interactions, but it’s so much more now. The original Tsaro Pride of lions is still around, descendants of the main characters of Relentless Enemies, our National Geographic film shot here.
Still, these lions are about 15% larger than any other lions we’ve studied across Africa. It may have something to do with their habit of wading across the water to hunt prey. It builds strong shoulder muscles, but the water keeps them cool, allowing for hunting during the day. Across a channel, Duba Explorers Camp also sees extraordinary big cats (lions, leopards and cheetah) often hunting in water.
A short flight up to Zarafa in the private Selinda Reserve takes you up the Selinda Spillway and over the most densely packed herds of elephants. Still, it’s the leopards around Zarafa that we are seeking on this leg of your safari. I once saw seven from the airfield to camp.
Flying north, a stop at Mpala Jena to take in the Victoria Falls is a mid-safari break before continuing to Kenya’s ol Donyo Lodge, where we visit the Maasai and learn about living with lions, the Maasai Olympics and a range of other conservation efforts with our Big Life partners. This is important because this safari should also be about understanding the future of big cats. Resident lions and cheetahs are doing really well at ol Donyo now.
Landing at Mara Plains Camp is always a delight, no matter whether the million-strong wildebeest migration from the south or the Zebra driven migration from the north is around. There are always big cats, and this must be one of the highest densities of cheetahs, lions and leopards in Africa. It is actually a little disturbing when a guide asks what your first preference for the day is “Lions, leopards or cheetah?” Our latest film, The Way of the Cheetah, was filmed here and at Mara Nyika Camp.
I think anyone will struggle to get as rewarding a cross-section of big cat sightings across different habitats as with this lineup – The Ultimate Big Cats Safari – which is where we have filmed in each location over the years.
Precious, unique, we admire them, but we threaten them too because they are just so beautiful.