It’s Not a Safari Without Simba

By Safari Mike Appelbaum

Simba Lion


You’re going on a SAFARI! Could you ever imagine “Safari” and not picture SIMBA?

For me, the most iconic African animal is this big guy staring at you. Remember Leo, the famous MGM lion. Actually, long before Lion King, Simba (swahili for lion…but you knew that, didn’t you?) was the single most obvious image that implied AFRICA. I hope you are aware that ALL of Africa (54 different countries!) isn’t home to lions these days, but in sub-Sahara countries, especially East Africa and South Africa, you’ll still find them, although they will generally be in national parks and on preserves. Tragically, their numbers have declined dramatically in recent years due to human population growth and poaching. (I won’t get on a soap box here, but just notice the cause of the problem).



Mashatu Game Preserve

Botswana’s Machatu Game Preserve  Map


So, now that we are on safari here in Botswana’s Mashatu Game Preserve. We will be getting up before sunrise and heading out in our Land Rover on our game drive. Today, you can join me with Moses, our driver and Jonathan, our wonderful tracker as we attempt to locate the Limpopo pride that lives in this area (named for the Limpopo River).  Just a thought as we’re searching for that pride…You may not be aware that the lion is the only big cat that is actually considered ‘social’. Now don’t get the wrong idea by social. When you see a lion that doesn’t mean friendly. That thought would be a really dangerous mistake.  By social they are the only big feline that has learned to adapt to the African environment by living and working together in order to survive. The pride is a very unique and dynamic unit and luckily today on our game drive you’ll have the opportunity to see what I pray will be the future of the lion species…lion cubs.


Lion Cubs


Generally, you’ll find lion cubs with their mother and possibly some siblings and an aunt or two. Since a typical litter is at least two or three cubs (up to possibly 6) and they are blind and helpless at birth, mom keeps them hidden from the world for sometimes up to 5 or 6 weeks…and even longer if the pride has other older cubs. Mama lion will certainly keep her precious babies away from the pride males out of concern that papa may have some doubts regarding the fathering of the cubs, especially If he doesn’t immediately recognize his own handsome features in the new cubs. After all, Dad may not have access to “23 and Me.”

Actually, the scent of the cubs is a clue, but we also know how the female of SOME species (hmmm, anything familiar) may think all males are just…clueless. It may be a bit more concerning if papa has some reason to doubt mama’s undying loyalty, so just to be safe she will usually be extra cautious before that introduction takes place.

If you were wondering why she would be so concerned it comes down to simple lion biology. Male lion won’t tolerate cubs that are not their own. It all has to do with bloodlines. The main purpose of all species is basically to reproduce. By making more babies the male is strengthening and continuing their own bloodline and that instinct is as powerful as the need for food. So as soon as a female has weaned her cubs, she will soon resume going back into estrus and then Big Simba can once again do his thing. What’s important to note, however, is that momma lion knows the males will kill the cubs that are not their own or those of the other males in the pride. That’s a pretty big GOTCHA for the female to consider, so let’s just say she’ll be cautious until she’s sure Dad is happy with his kids.

Lion Pride

Our timing is perfect. Now that you’re a lion expert, Jonathan located the pride. It appears that those huge full-maned male ‘protectors’ of the pride are not initially be visible in the mix. but the big boys will certainly be somewhere in the area. Sometimes weighing in at 450  up to 500 pounds there’s a good chance their primary daytime activity will be snoring under a tree in some tall grass. Adult males will usually  have  a pride that can have as few as 3 or 4 adults with one adult male or a very large pride with as many as 20 or more adults with several big males. This pride has 9 females and three big males that seem to be out patrolling their territory and protecting the pride from other males looking to challenge them and take over the pride. The average pride is somewhere in between, although I’ve found the largest prides to be in the Serengeti of Tanzania, the Maasai Mara of Kenya and Kruger National Park in South Africa.


Lion CubWell, it looks like our game drive has been a success. These cubs are just a few months old and have already integrated into the pride. They appear healthy and content and with a little luck, the males will keep this pride together and give the male cubs the two years they need to learn all the lion skills that will make them hunters and protectors. The males will be pushed from the pride at about two years to roam and find their own pride while the females will remain in the pride and continue to further the bloodline. The amazing social behavior of the African lion shows itself in the incredible team hunting skills of the females. The cubs learn the coordination and teamwork of hunting as they observe and later take part in the combination of learned and instinctive behavior that sets the lion apart from any other big cat.

I can only hope that the African lion is a forever part of our world and the supposedly intelligent human beings on the planet begin to recognize our responsibility.

Safari Mike, Michael AppelbaumI’ve taken thousands of photos on film (slides) and basically filed them away. I also filed away (in my head) the hundreds of adventures and experiences I’ve been so blessed to have had. I never wanted to be the guy at the party boring everyone with his stories, so I simply kept them to myself all these years…or at least until recently when I was convinced to post a few safari photos on Facebook. Every photo had a story and the memories just flooded right back.

Guiding close to 30 safaris there’s quite a lot to share and suddenly I felt like I was reliving every moment…every detail and feeling. I was finally sharing the stories and adventures in living color (to date over 60 adventures with more to come). I’m having a wonderful time returning to each experience and hope you can enjoy these little bite sized adventures.

Every single word is exactly as it happened so there’s no need for me to exaggerate or embellish anything. While I keep a journal of each safari, I seldom need to refer to it. The photos are all mine, for better or worse, unless I’m actually part of the image. Well, that’s my story. Please make any comments you wish. I will respond to every comment and usually have fun with them. You may have been on safari before, but I want you to feel like you’re experiencing each adventure along with me, so if you’re ready, let’s go on this  safari together.

        Mike Appelbaum

18 thoughts on “It’s Not a Safari Without Simba”

  1. Every time read about your adventures I learn something. Even if it is that you are such a modest story teller. What adventures you have had, so thank you for sharing.

    1. Hi Sandy,
      Thank you so much for staying in touch and always commenting. Since these are experiences I wouldn’t “talk” about, I’m really thrilled to share them in print and find out they’re actually being enjoyed.

  2. No place like African Safari lands— the pressures to bring in more tour companies and customers— jobs and $$ for poor government is overwhelming the natural world. Poaching is way up in most areas – to feed the Asian appetite for exotic animal parts Yet mismanagement of in other countries like Botswana has allowed overpopulation of Elephants — they collide with native peoples and the destroy habitat. Yes, it’s unlike anywhere on earth, it’s changing, not for the good. Savor the memories. We go to Ethiopia and Kenya next January if not canceled again.

    1. “Jambo”, Crank. Thanks so much for your comment. Since you’ll probably get to East Africa next January you can start brushing up on your swahili. I get the feeling this may not be your first visit to Africa as you are very aware of these problems that certainly do exist. Most unfortunately, these are not issues that have easy answers. I would have to agree with your statement to savor the memories, since it’s obvious that I do. I also hope that a greater awareness of these issues may pressure governments to take a stand that will insure natural habitats and reduce the poaching as much as humanly possible. I hope your January trip includes a safari and is wonderful and rewarding.

  3. I always wanted to do a safari, have been to north Africa but never to safari lands. At 87. Will never get the chance. Thanks for the glimpse of what it might be like..
    Have had adventures in the great white north and in the Americas and Europe but not Africa, Asia, or Australia.

    1. Hello Peggy. I frequently hear people say a safari is on their bucket list. It truly is the one trip that has no equal, so I’m glad you came along on this little safari with me. If you enjoyed it please consider coming along on my previous “game drives” with Hallard Press. It seems like you’ve already done some great traveling even without AAA. That is Africa, Asia and Australia, not the auto club. Thanks again for joining me Peggy.

    1. I’m so happy you joined me, Linda. Just try to imagine actually being there, only a few feet away from those cute cubs. That also means being pretty close to their mom and dad, but that’s what makes a safari REALLY exciting. Thanks for joining me and for your input. Please come back again.

  4. Another WOW story from you Mike. The sub-title heading of this adventure could also have been …
    “Everything you ever wanted to know about lions.”
    Curious if you were called “BWANA” during your adventures OR was that reserved for your native guide?
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Ben. I feel like you should be getting a discount on all these adventures you’ve joined me on. I really appreciate all your comments and I should let you know there’s still even more about lions I’ve been saving for another day. I love your question about being called “bwana”. For most of my years traveling in East Africa (primarily Kenya and Tanzania) it was common to be called Bwana or Bwana Mike as a term of polite respect, much like the use of “sir” or “mister”. It is also used to denote authority, especially in movies where it implied the boss. It is certainly used by locals in the tourist industry when dealing with us “mzungus”. A mzungu (miz-un-goo) is the swahili term for a European or white person and is the term locals use when talking together (not a bad term). A brief, cute story…after 20 years of travel in East Africa being called Bwana I returned one year with my dark hair beginning to turn a bit lighter (ok, gray). For the very first time, instead of them greeting me with “Jambo Bwana Mike” I was greeted with “Jambo Mzee”. While it was a sign of high respect to being an elder leader of the tribe, it definitely made me feel as if they thought I was just an “old fart mzungu”. Well, thanks again bwana Ben.

      1. Bwana Mike,
        Thanks for your reply to my question and especially your additional Brief Short Story.
        Love your sense of humor about your “name”change greeting after your hair turned gray.
        Remember, gray hair is better than no hair.!

  5. I always love your stories. Please continue to share them.
    Are you familiar with the books written by Delia and Mark Owens? Delia wrote the incredible novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, but before she became a novelist, she and her then husband, Mark, did their graduate field work in Africa. Their books, including Cry of the Kalahari, tell of their experiences in the 1970’s with a wonderful pride of lions who became quite comfortable around them. They also wrote about many of their other experiences, including working to save African elephants from poachers. Reading your stories reminded me of how much I enjoyed reading about their experiences.

    1. Rita, thank you so much for always showing an interest. You just happened to bring up two of my Africa based heroes. Some of Mark and Delia’s African adventures were taking place during the same time I was in other areas. Their initial work in the Kalahari wasn’t published until around 1981-82 and I not only read and reread Cry of the Kalahari but tried to get in touch with them to set up a visit with them. It never took place, but to this day I still dream about some of the AMAZING things they did and experienced. I can’t believe how they ever survived some of their insane experiences with lion, brown hyena and many things not even mentioned in the books. You just put my brain back into my time machine mode thinking about them. Now I’ll have to go back to my well worn copy of Cry of the Kalahari and once again try to picture myself living their experiences. Thanks Rita…because of you now I’ll be up half the night! 🙂

  6. Mike, Your well-written story certainly held my interest right to the finish, and your photos made the story come even more alive. Thanks for the imaginative safari experience.

    1. Thank you so much for coming along on our little adventure, Ann Marie. I absolutely love taking people with me and it certainly looks like you were in a front seat. I get immense satisfaction and enjoyment when taking people with me on real safaris, so reliving some of these adventures with you through this medium gives me a chance to enjoy them all over again. Your comment is the stimulus that triggers me to take another ‘game drive’ through my photos and lead another mini safari…where road conditions and bathrooms aren’t an issue.

  7. Mike you put me right there in the Land Rover. I cant express how wonderful you describe the moments and times of your adventures as we all share along. Thank you for this one of the lion adventure. Looking forward to more.

    1. I know you would just love a real safari, Julie. As you know I don’t talk about all these little experiences, but it’s fun for me to look back and write about them. Thanks for commenting. I know how your love of animals always shines through and a safari is certainly the ultimate animal adventure. See ya soon.

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