Monday, January 20, 2014

Lion (Africa Series)

(continuing a hopefully interesting, non-bird series of animals…see below for a fuller explanation)

                               Resting in the saddle of a rock outcropping, a female lion drifts in and out of sleep.

 It’s about nine o’clock on a November morning in Kenya’s Maasai Mara. She looks sleepy…she probably hunted all night.

She’s alone now, but not really by herself.  Her pride is likely somewhere close by, also resting.  She just happened to be the only one in sight when we drove up.

Zebra and wildebeest were grazing on the short grass nearby.  Lions, when hunting together, are capable of bringing down a fully-grown zebra or wildebeest. However, with no grass for cover and in broad daylight, the lions' chances of getting close enough are slim.  Only sick or injured animals need worry today.

Lions spend a good portion of their time just sleeping. Just like house cats, twenty hours a day has been noted.  

These two young bachelor males were satisfied with the spot they chose to rest.  Anyplace is a good place to nap when you are at the top of the food chain. 

They slept peacefully.

Even a shy lion is easy to spot. They are big, strong, golden and not easily camouflaged.  

It makes little difference where they chose to rest though…few would bother them anywhere.

                                           Ears forward and eyes wide-open, lions study their prey carefully.

Two lionesses watch for signs of weakness in a line of passing zebras, looking to maximize their chances in a chase. They decide to let them all pass.

The zebras migrate through calmly, giving no indication they knew the lionesses were watching.

This zebra was fortunate and got away when attacked. Injured and bleeding on her belly and back, she’s likely to attract extra attention from now on.

This young male lion was lost and alone…seriously lost, separated from his pride.  He was upset with his predicament too. 

Walking and resting and walking again, he calls out a low mournful announcement of his whereabouts.  

He was likely separated during a night hunt and became disoriented in the dark.

The Maasai Mara is a vast place. Wandering in the early morning sunshine the young male moans into the wind, but hears no reply.   Is he walking in the right direction?

Satellite tracking works for humans when following a roaming lioness, but it’s just extra baggage to her, when she prowls in the rain. 
A big male rests in the sunshine suffering only the ever-present
flies…a constant annoyance. Photo Credit: Antonio Marangabassa

When the time comes to mate, lions mate a lot...  every ten minutes or so, all day long for a day or two.  When ready, the female initiates mating by lying down beside the male.  

He obliges.

(Click any picture to enlarge)

When a driver discovers a mating pair of lions, the location is quickly spread via two-way radios.  Tourists want to see lions mating, so the drivers share animal sightings frequently on the radios…the language is Swahili. 

Soon the trucks converge.  

The lions seem unfazed with the trucks and tourists arriving and departing.  To them the trucks are just another non-edible item in their environment…of no real value.

Conversely, lions generate a lot of value for Kenya, drawing thousands of tourists.  

Many come to see the Big Five; lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros.

To the Kenyan economy, ecotourism is huge. 

Kenya, as a country, realized the value of their animal assets a long time ago and developed its ecotourism resources over the decades…valued now at over $800M a year.

African lion populations in the wild have declined dramatically in the last fifty years...100,000 down to 32,000 now.  

That is largely because of lost habitat due to human encroachment.  

Lions reproduce well in captivity, so losing the species entirely is not likely.  It’s the loss of the wild lion and the natural diversity that a wild lion brings to the species that’s threatened.

They seem capable of taking care of themselves quite well in all matters except loss of habitat... 
all the while still getting 15-20 hours of sleep a day.


(Africa Series)
I recently traveled to Africa, with the intent of finding new birds to photograph. I found over fifty 'new' bird species, but not just birds.

I went with my good friends Barbara and Don Gilmore.  Barb is a tour organizer and owns Many Hats Travel. She led eighteen women and four men through Sweetwater Tented Camp, Lake Nakuru National Park and the Maasai Mara in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The experience was enlightening, eye opening and exhausting all at the same time. There was little downtime, chiefly self-inflicted because you don’t want to miss anything.  Missing a game drive could mean not seeing an animal others saw.  As our African host, Atonio Marangabassa stated, "If you want a vacation, go to Hawaii…you’re here to see animals!"

But Feather Tailed Stories is not a travel blog…it’s about birds and I will keep it as such.  Nevertheless, there were many interesting animals stories in Africa and to NOT tell them would be unfortunate. My focus here is still on birds, but for this series I will include four-legged animals, too. I hope you agree with this major deviation, but I will start with birds.