August 24, 2016

I was lucky enough to have spent most of the month of June in Tanzania on safari. It was fantastic to return to this amazing habitat.

Game abounds in every corner with huge herds of eland, topi, zebra, Thomson’s and Grant’s gazelles, not to mention elephant, buffalo, and the highest concentration of large predators on the planet.

The great migration consists of the movement of over 1.2 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelles across the Serengeti. Understandably, it is a safari bucket-list item for many travelers. But what most people do not realize is that there is an abundance of game that remains, both during and after the migration.

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There is a small triangle of land sandwiched between the Kenya border and the Mara river known as the Lamai wedge. It is here that I found myself with two amazing guests just as the migration’s first fingers began to stretch onto the northern Serengeti. The wildebeest herds were growing daily and mixed with the plethora of game, we saw clans of hyaenas 50+ strong, and gigantic sleepy crocodiles, all awaiting their feast.

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Here we spent our days bumbling along through breathtaking scenery, phenomenal animal encounters and conversations that passed through a huge range of topics. I am pretty sure that I took away more from this trip than the guests did.

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While this was all going on, the lions had other things on their minds.

The evenings were filled with booming roars coming from the northeast, and it wasn’t long before we located the local lion pride on the first morning – a couple of young males with some shy females, slinking through the long grass.

With this abundance of game the lion prides can grow very large and are usually presided over by a coalition of two or three males. Only male lions in peak condition can defend a territory in an area with as high a concentration of competing lions such as this.

The following morning, we went searching further out onto the plains grazed short by the giant herds of herbivores.

We came upon a large male lion who was busy mating with not one, but two females near a small drainage line.

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Mating lions are truly a sight to behold. On average, they mate about once every 30 to 40 minutes for three days, and at their peak it can be as frequent as every 10 minutes. So one male taking on two females was quite an impressive feat to say the least.

The physiology of lions is also very interesting. They exhibit a process known as induced ovulation, meaning that the female’s ovulation is induced by this repeated mating and a small barb that the male has on his penis that causes her noticeable discomfort as he withdraws. This behavior has evolved to help produce the most desirable traits in their offspring.

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A male must defend his female for several days while they mate, often a process that requires collaboration with other males. In this way, she is assured to get the genes of the most powerful and successful males in the area.

The next morning, a second male joined these mating lions – a second potential  father of the cubs that this lioness would produce, increasing the chances of success for her future litter.

For us, it meant that we spent two mornings and evenings with these lions who completely ignored us and allowed us to share a very special time.

I would like to be able to say the conversation in our vehicle never slipped below the line of politeness, but that would not be exactly correct.

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We found the lions again on our last morning, finally getting some rest on a small termite mound. Hopefully these impressive lionesses will soon be raising some cubs in this landscape of plenty. I hope to return soon for the next chapter.

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