Man’s encroachment into the wilderness continues to increase the pressure on African lions which are now on the cusp of being added to the ‘at risk’ register. Their population has declined by about a half in the last three decades. Of the 34,000 or so lions left in the world 70% can be found in just ten strongholds, six of which are in southern Africa and four in eastern Africa.
Namibia in particular is approaching crises point with a dearth of young lions leading to less dominant males to lead the prides in the future. This also leads to in-breeding thus diminishing the gene pool and increasing the chance of disease.
To have a world without this apex predator – the king of beasts – will forever change Africa.
Here are some of the areas where lion numbers are still strong:-
Tanzania (Serengeti) – the vast Savannah grasslands that are the Serengeti (and in that I include the region of the Ngorongoro Highlands (to the north-west of the Ngorongoro Crater) is an ideal place to support ‘big cats’ and it does just that with one of the largest populations of lions in Africa. The annual Great Migration traverses the region, from south to north, over a three month period starting in June. Almost one and a half million wildebeest and zebras follow the rains into Kenya, having calved in the Southern Serengeti and are followed by large prides of lions as well as other predators. The Serengeti (and the adjoining Masai Mara in Kenya) is home to an estimated 3,500 lions.
Tanzania (Selous) – a park that it relatively unknown compared to its more illustrious peer, the Serengeti. The Selous is situated to the south-west of Dar es Salaam and is one of the largest game reserves in Africa. Almost the size of Switzerland, yet with far fewer safari lodges than reserves many times its size, the Selous is ideal for a second or third-time safari – it’s far removed from the more ‘touristy’ Northern Circuit, which includes Lake Manyara, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. Whilst the Selous doesn’t have the sheer numbers of animals of the Serengeti, it makes up for this with its amazing diversity and is home to an estimated 7,500 lion. Further west is the very remote Ruaha National Park, which with its surrounding area is thought to support an estimated 3,600 lion.
The Selous is also quite close to the Indian Ocean coast, so makes for a tight bush & beach experience.
Zambia – landlocked on a vast plateau in south-central Africa, Zambia has a few remote national parks that see fewer tourists than those in neighbouring countries, such as the Okavango Delta and Chobe in Botswana and the Serengeti in Tanzania. This is due partly to their remoteness, although transport links have improved in recent years, but largely because Zambia has a short safari season (April to October but with some camps only opening annually in June) between the heavy annual rains. The best known of these is South Luangwa National Park, some 300 miles north-east of Lusaka. The park has a wide variety of prey species supporting high numbers of leopard as well as about 850 lions.
The less well known Kafue National Park to the west of Lusaka, contains the seasonally flooded wetlands known as the Busanga Plains, which supports a wide diversity of game and good numbers of lion some of which, like those at Lake Manyara NP in Tanzania, climb trees.
Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park – the Kruger National Park in South Africa has a rich heritage and is one of thebest-knownn wildlife reserves in Africa. It is now part of a huge park that was formed by taking down the fences between the Kruger, Gonarezhou in Zimbabwe and Limpopo in Mozambique allowing the wildlife (and sadly, poachers) to traverse across 35,000 sq km of bush – and there are plans to increase it to almost 100,000 sq kms. The park is incredibly rich in wildlife and is thought to support in excess of 2,000 lion. It is a highly accessible reserve with many rest camp and visitors can self-drive through large parts of the park but not at night though. And you have to stay on the roads. A better option would be to visit one of the private reserves that abut the park, such as the Sabi Sands or Timbavati.
It is suffering from some severe poaching especially of rhino and elephant due to the (now) ease of access to the coast in Mozambique.
Botswana (Central Kalahari & Okavango) – the huge and untouched pristine landscapes of Botswana offer a wide variety of habitats. When combined with the abundant amounts of permanent water (and hence grazing) especially in the Okavango Delta and the surrounding areas, it is a magnet for a wide diversity of wildlife. There are particular areas where lions seem to thrive with the area around Duba Plains and on Chiefs Island particularly well known. Botswana is thought to support about 3,000 lions.