The lion is the most sought after species by safari goers. Lions can be observed in most of the popular, protected wildlife areas. Including areas with particularly high densities offers good chances for observing behavior. These charismatic big cats are most active at night and only eat every three or four days, however they are opportunists who will use a nearby water source to ambush diurnal species. They also stay attuned to the signals of vultures soaring to snatch an easier meal in the daytime. Lions often sleep for hours during the day earning them the nickname of ‘flat cats’. Selecting regions with a high population density and/or access to night drives allows for the chance to enjoy behavior beyond nap time.
As majestic and iconic as they are, lions make for challenging neighbors, and predator-livestock conflict continues to be one of the major obstacles for lion conservation. This reinforces the need for conservation tourism models that include substantial benefit to local communities in order for the programs to be successful long-term.
Best Places to see Lions on Safari
Kenya’s Masai Mara and Tanzania’s Serengeti have terrific densities of lions. The Mara Conservancies are particularly good for action with the allowance of night drives and off-roading.
Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park is great for finding lions in the classic poses on rock outcrops (kopjes). Ruaha National Park in southern Tanzania may be the best kept secret; it is lightly touristed yet has some of the highest densities of lions with especially great sightings possible during the dry season.
Despite a smaller population of lions relative to East Africa, Botswana ranks as one of the best locations due to the quality of safari experience within the private concessions. The sandy ground allows for exciting tracking, and off-road and night driving allow observation during the most active times. Many lion prides in Botswana focus on large prey such as buffalo and hippo, which also makes for interesting viewing.
Other Areas of Note
Zambia’s Luangwa Valley is one of the 10 lion strongholds in Africa, according to the Zambia Carnivore Programme, while the Greater Kafue holds the country’s second largest population.
South Africa’s Kruger area and the adjacent private game reserves are strong for lion populations. However, regions should be selected with consideration to avoid crowding pitfalls. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and Etosha National Park can all have excellent lion viewing in desert landscapes despite having lower lion densities.
The Selous region of Tanzania and the Niassa Reserve of Mozambique have some of the largest populations of lions, but the areas are large with limited tourism access making sightings less reliable.
In Kenya and Uganda, there are opportunities to go out with lion researchers who track collared lions by radio-telemetry. Similarly, from King Lewanika Camp in Zambia’s Liuwa Plains National Park, guests are staying at the only permanent camp in the entire national park with the opportunity to set out in search of lions with the Zambia Carnivore Programme to find the small, recovering population of descendants of the late Lady Liuwa.