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The best destinations to see lions

Where to see lions on your next safari

There’s nothing more exhilarating than scanning the skyline and spotting a pride of lions slowly traversing the horizon.  Every footfall is deliberate and each motion commanding.

One of Africa’s most iconic species, lions are on every wildlife enthusiast’s list. They are found throughout east and southern Africa but certain regions have more reliable and consistent sightings.  Here we will not only highlight some of our favorite destinations to see lions, but also introduce you to several different types of lions – and a few infamous prides. 

Then if you are lucky, on your next safari you’ll have an opportunity to catch a whiff of a lion’s unmistakable straw scented fur or look into a pair of steely amber eyes.

The Greater Kruger

The Greater Kruger is the poster child of safaris in South Africa, and the most well-known destination to spot lions. The Greater Kruger comprises the Kruger National Park and a myriad of private reserves, which means you’ll have numerous choices when it comes to selecting a destination (don’t worry – we’ll help you each step of the way). There is a high concentration of lions in the Kruger area, which means you won’t be disappointed.

Because they’re allowed to drive off-road in private reserves, game rangers can get up close to lion prides. Be prepared for a lion to casually brush past a vehicle as if it’s a stationary tree stump. Lions of the Kruger are habituated to game viewers, and don’t see the vehicles as a threat.

The Mighty Mapogo males

If you follow lion pride dynamics, you might have heard of the infamous “Mighty Mapogo” male lions. Their roguish behavior became a fascination for many, so much so that documentary makers spent months studying and filming these brutish lions. The Mapogo males reigned supreme over the Sabi Sand for months, causing a reign of terror throughout. The 6 Mapogo males killed over 100 lions and cubs in their quest to take over territories. With their swashbuckling swagger and air of superiority, this crew commanded respect, and have certainly earned their reputation as being the kings of Sabi Sand.

Although now deceased, their bloodline still runs strong in the Sabi Sand, making this reserve an absolute highlight for lion fanatics who want to spot the Kruger’s toughest lions.

White lions of the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve

Famed for frequent sightings of white lions, the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve is another go-to Kruger destination. White lions can be found throughout the Kruger, but the Timbavati has the largest population.

Contrary to popular belief, white lions are not albino. White lions are born when both parents contain the leucistic gene, which is a recessive gene responsible for partial loss of color. The gene can be carried by tawny lions, many of which dwell within the Timbavati traverse. Local folklore believes that spotting a white lion in the wild is incredibly good luck – something which we could all do with right now!

Botswana

Botswana is one of the wildest and rugged countries in Africa. From the semi-arid unforgiving desert landscapes of the Kalahari to the swampy Okavango Delta, Botswana’s mesmerizing landscapes provide the ideal habitat for predators to thrive. Many people have heard of the lion-rich Moremi Game Reserve in the delta and the popular Chobe National Park, but if you want to cast a wider net for unusual lion sightings, then a sojourn to Savuti and the Kalahari is a must.

Elephant eating lions of Savuti

The Savuti channel is a geographical marvel. The channel is erratic and only flows every few years when there is tectonic plate movement causing a shift in water flow. Previously, the channel dried up leaving little prey options for predators. The lions of the area began taking down elephants because it was their only source of food. Tackling giant prey is almost unheard of in the lion kingdom! Although this particular pride has dwindled, Savuti is still known for its tough-as-nails lions.

Black-maned lions of the central Kalahari

Have you ever seen a black-maned lion in the wild? They have a remarkable presence, and on a scale of 1 to 10 of ferociousness, we’d rank them an 11! Occurring mainly in the endless expanse of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, these lions are rare to spot.

The black-maned lions of the Kalahari aren’t used to seeing people and vehicles, so you can only imagine how wild these lions are. And the black manes? The thicker the mane, the more testosterone and the ability to trap heat when temperatures plummet. Given the challenging environment and extreme temperatures, it’s no surprise that the central Kalahari male lions have such lustrous locks.

Kenya

Kenya is a sanctuary for wildlife. Most travelers flock to this magical country for the annual wildebeest migration, which takes place in the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. This is a popular place to spot lions, and with a population of over 4 000 lions, it’s safe to say that sightings are consistent.

Maneless lions of Tsavo East National Park 

Tsavo East National Park suffers from brutally hot temperatures, and most wildlife has had to adapt to survive in this harsh environment. One of the key functions of a lion’s mane is to trap heat, and the lions in this pocket of wilderness simply cannot function with such a heavy band of warmth. As such, the male lions in the Tsavo region in Kenya generally don’t have manes, because they’ve adapted to their climatic conditions.

Let’s not forget about the maneless Tsavo man-eating coalition from 1898 that inspired the movie “The Ghost and the Darkness”. Intrigued? Well, let’s add Tsavo to your itinerary!

Uganda

Gorilla and chimp trekking in Uganda is a must, but why not double-up and combine it with a safari experience? Murchison Falls Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, and Kidepo Valley Park are the best places to spot lions. Imagine trekking with gorillas on a Monday and photographing lions on a Tuesday. It’s all possible in Uganda! 

Tree climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park is the jewel in Uganda’s crown. Known for its distinct landscapes, and for being the home of the tree-climbing lions, the park is certainly something to write home about. The story behind these branch loving beasts? In the Ishasha sector of the park, it gets excruciatingly hot during the summer. It’s not uncommon to spot adult lions and their cubs straddling the branches of both acacia and sycamore fig trees.

Get out there, enjoy the wide-open spaces on safari and find the lions, a species that truly knows how to adapt and survive. Don’t know where to start? Start by picking up the phone or dropping us an email. We’ll help you find those lions!

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~ African Proverb

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