By Safari Mike Appelbaum
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
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.
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.
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.
Well, 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.
I’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.