An Encounter of the Super-Pride Kind
Written by Guests, Chris & Monique Fallows
Reflecting back on our trip, I have to say the only way to visit The Serengeti is with Asilia Africa. The Central Serengeti can get rather overcrowded with lots of vehicle traffic but the locations of both Asilia camps, Dunia in the western part of The Serengeti and Namiri Plains in the east are in quiet areas with low traffic volume. Added to the incredible predator sightings in these areas, the camp staff and guides went out of their way to make us feel at home and went the extra mile to make sure we had the best experience possible.
Image – Chris Fallows
A very quick overview of our ten-day stay highlights just how special these areas are: a total of 26 different cheetah in 6 days; 3 different cheetah chases; 2 serval sightings and multiple lion sightings each day including a pride comprising of 43 lions.
Having travelled extensively in Southern Africa, we can only say that this is wildlife viewing on steroids!
The goal however for our time spent in The Serengeti was not just to see the cats, but most specifically we wanted to photograph lions sitting on kopjes (rocky outcrops). The predators here use the kopjes as vantage points from which to spot prey and can make for dramatic images of these super predators.
Serengeti is a Swahili word meaning “endless”. It is a word that perfectly describes the Serengeti with its seemingly endless vistas of grassland savannah. Dotted amongst the grasslands are groupings of majestic kopjes, each outcrop with its own unique feature. The kopjes themselves have a very interesting origin. Mount Kilimanjaro was most active 360,000 years ago and during this time molten lava would have cooled underground, never erupting from the volcanic cone. Erosion then began to work its magic and after thousands of years the kopjes now reveal themselves.The beautiful canvass was there, it was just waiting for a cat to sit atop!
We started at Dunia which looks over the majestically beautiful Moru Kopjes. In our five days here we had five very good sightings of lions on the rocks, more than we thought we would be lucky enough to see.
On our first morning, we spotted a lioness well known to our guide, Zawadi. She was walking towards a small kopje with her two young cubs in tow. It was obvious that she needed to hunt and the vantage point from atop the kopje was a perfect place to search for Grant’s gazelles. With no hesitation, she bounded up and was shortly followed by the two cubs. As mom settled in for a thorough inspection of the surrounding area, the cubs rested, well protected by the rocky outcrop.
Image – Chris Fallows
The following day we were fortunate to come across a powerful coalition of four adult male lions lying at the base of a low lying outcrop. One lion was particularly impressive. He had a scar just below his right eye and the dark line really gave this male the disposition of a true warrior. It was a cloudy day and as we didn’t think the lions would wander much further from where they were we settled in to wait.
Quite shortly after our arrival two of the lions got up, and to our great excitement, went straight up the kopje. It was exactly what we wanted … impressive animals, a beautiful sky and a kopje looking out across the grasslands. We just needed one of them (or perhaps both!) to walk over to the edge and look out to survey their Kingdom.
It was a long wait and as these were very sleepy lions we didn’t have complete faith that it would happen. But, after eight hours the lion with the scar suddenly sat up, stretched, yawned a few times and to our extreme excitement went to the exact spot we were hoping he would go! On only our second morning we had got our Lion King moment.
On our last morning at Dunia, we were driving in the Moru Kopje area when we spotted a lioness walking in the road just ahead of us. As we approached, our focus was on this lioness when I became vaguely aware of what I thought was a herd of Thompson’s gazelles in the grass on our left-hand side. As I was about to point this out I realised it wasn’t a herd of gazelles, but quite literally a herd of lions! There were just brown shapes everywhere and in numbers neither Chris nor I had ever seen before.
We were extremely fortunate in that the grass area they were crossing was bisected by a road. Fortunately, we were able to quickly drive around and witness the entire approach of this Super Pride as they crossed through the grass and over the road directly towards us. All three of us, Zawadi, Chris and I, were in a complete panic. We had never seen anything like this and we were all shaking with excitement. I know that I certainly could not hold the camera steady and neither of us had any idea how to photograph this…there were just lions everywhere! We had long lenses, medium lenses and then wide angle lenses…it was complete chaos!
Image – Chris Fallows
One of the things that stand out as being the most bizarre in those few moments, was the sound. Normally you would associate the sound of moving grass with a large herd of moving gazelle, but this time round it was the sound of many moving lions!
Once we had calmed down to a panic and they had crossed the road we were able to count them. Forty-three in total! It was a true super pride. Super Prides are almost something of a myth and this truly was something I never dreamed I would be lucky enough to see in my life. To make things even crazier, there were no male lions so this was not even the whole pride.We have done some research and there are extremely few accounts, past or present, of prides made up of these kind of numbers.It was one of those wildlife encounters that took days to come down from and I still sit here writing, but not quite believing, what we were so fortunate to see.
Namiri Plains in the South West is most famous for excellent cheetah sightings as well as three different lion prides in its area.This is where we saw 26 cheetah in just 6 days!Our guides John and Manja had excellent eyesight and with their skills it was just one cheetah sighting after the next. I felt quite strange sitting back in the landrover knowing that I didn’t actually have to work too hard to spot because these guys were not going to miss anything.
Actually, it was rather nice!
On our first morning we came across a female cheetah sitting on top of a termite mound. About 400 meters in front of her was a fairly large herd of Thompson’s gazelle and a few hartebeest.They had all seen her and we felt sure the game was up. Yet, she continued to sit bolt upright and watched vigilantly.
Image – Chris Fallows
Three hours into our wait with her she calmly jumped off the mound and began a gentle trot towards the Thompson’s gazelle. We were expecting a complete non-event as the Thompson’s gently trotted away to a comfortable distance. Chris did not even pick up his camera.
She then suddenly began to increase her pace and the Tommy’s began to react.Faster still and out of what seemed like no opportunity at all, the hunt was on.If you have a good look at Chris’s photograph you’ll see she is going at almost full taps and there is still no gazelle in the frame.She continued to chase, crossing the road behind us.As one of the gazelles crossed the road; it seemed to make a small error and slowed down just a fraction.
It thought it was safe, but it was not.
In that fraction of a second, the female cheetah was onto it, capitalising on what would ultimately be its fatal mistake.We were to see two more cheetah chases in the next 4 days but none were successful even though they were far closer in their initial pursuits.All three events we witnessed were incredible and I am left completely blown away at the phenomenal behaviour we witnessed in such a short space of time.
Our luck with cheetah continued and at sunrise one morning we spotted the classic shape of a cat outlined against the orange morning sky and standing at the top of a kopje.It was a cheetah mom with three playful cubs that posed almost perfectly for us as she searched for potential prey.Once she bounded down we had a wonderful 30 minutes of the cubs playing with each other as well as a few playful bursts between the mom and cubs.
Image – Chris Fallows
Multiple lion sightings were a daily event but two sightings stand out as highlights.For many years two brothers, namely Bob Marley and Ziggy, ruled the main pride around Namiri Plains. Bob Marley had a black mane with dreadlocks and Ziggy had a blonde mane with dreadlocks. Apparently, they were a force to be reckoned with in their day.Bob Marley has since passed on but has sired what I can honestly say is the most beautiful male lion I have ever seen. In fact, he supersedes his competition!His enormous, luxuriant black mane reaches as low down as his belly and he is in such perfect condition it looked as if he had just emerged from the beauty parlour. If I was a lioness, I would be completely smitten!
This truly magnificent specimen is known as Bob Junior and we were privileged to find him roaring as he called for his pride at sunrise one morning. Even though this was our only sighting of him, we did manage to find his pride on a number of occasions which consisted of 2 adult lioness, a sub-adult lioness, and 3 teenage cubs.
Image – Chris Fallows
The most memorable encounter was on our last afternoon.It had rained late into the afternoon but when the rain had finally cleared it left behind a beautiful dark sky.The lion pride had decided to rest around a large termite mound and to our delight one of the youngsters decided to perch himself at the very top of it. At that moment the sun decided to peep out from behind the clouds and a few exquisite moments followed.
It was the perfect end to a truly special and memorable visit to The Serengeti. But it was also with heavy hearts that we drove away from the sighting knowing that it would be some time before we could perhaps return again.
In conclusion, I have to say that our trip was so far beyond expectation. The wildlife sightings were phenomenal, the areas where beautiful and the people we met were amongst some of the most genuine people we have met on our many travels.
Sadly, there is always a reality. Just as we are experiencing massive changes of the ocean in South Africa, effects are also being felt here.As the climate is warming less snow and ice cover Mount Kilimanjaro. The ice-melt is an integral part of the Amboseli system and the swamp areas that are the recipients of the ice-melt are vital to the survival of the elephants here.In the past 2 years the famous migration of nearly 1.5 million wildebeest between The Masai Mara and The Serengeti has been completely unpredictable due to changing rain patterns. Any further changes can possibly change this great migration which will have a deadly effect on the predators here that are so reliant on the arrival of so many easier meals.
Take heed everyone. Climate change is here and the consequences are so much farther reaching than just ourselves.
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