Lions of the Serengeti and Masai Mara

I’ve spent the last four months teaching photography at Klein’s Camp, Serengeti Under Canvas, Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp and Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp. Here are a few facts about lions I picked up from the guides along the way…

One of the male lions at Klein’s Camp

One of the male lions at Klein’s Camp

Klein’s Camp

  • The main pride at Klein’s Camp is the the Kuka or Black Rock pride (depending on who you talk to), which contains five male and seven female lions. The second, third and fourth oldest males may be from the same litter. There are also two other prides at either end of the valley called Buffalo Hill and (confusingly!) Black Rock.

  • The Kuka males can be recognised by the following features:

    • 1: Dark mane, circular bare patch in mane behind neck, crescent-shaped scar on shoulder 

    • 2: Black mark beside right eye, wound on neck in the mane, the mane is very close to the face

    • 3: No distinguishing features, no scars, darkish mane, but not a full one

    • 4: Deep, diagonal scar on face, scars on back, short mane (not seen since a fight with another lion, so probably dead…)

    • 5: ‘Bald’ on top, no scars

Lioness in silhouette at sunrise on the bank of the Maji Mbele pool

Lioness in silhouette at sunrise on the bank of the Maji Mbele pool

Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp

  • Grumeti Serengeti Tented Camp is in the Grumeti pride’s territory, consisting of one male and a total of more than 50 lions.

  • There used to be a coalition of 12 brothers who used to hunt at any time of day - they were ‘killing machines’, according to Waziri, the head guide - but they haven’t been seen recently. 

  • There are three other lion prides in the area: Sabora (3 males, 5 females and 16 cubs = 24), Nyasirori (3+ males, 43+ total), Ranger Post/Kirawira (3 males - 2 dominant, 30-33 in total).

Three male lions take down a female buffalo in the Serengeti

Three male lions take down a female buffalo in the Serengeti

Cottar’s 1920s Safari Camp

  • At Cottar’s, there used to be one pride called Henry’s pride, but it split into two - both the males being ‘shared’ between them. The rump of Henry’s pride has 15 lions (2 males, 8 females and 5 ‘teenagers’), while the other ‘Scotch’ (or ‘Scotch Rocks’) pride has 10 (2 males, 4 females and 6 cubs of 3-6 months). There are also three big males called the ‘Georges’.

Can you spot which of the Kuka males this is?

Can you spot which of the Kuka males this is?

Facts and figures

  • There are only 20,000 lions left worldwide (compared to 700,000 leopards!), and their range is now only 8% of what it was.

  • There are 3,000 lions in the whole of the Serengeti in Tanzania.

  • Females come in season at the same time to avoid males fighting for them and to raise the cubs together or because a new set of dominant males has killed all their cubs, leading them to enter oestrus at the same time.

  • Lions mate for around seven days, starting every 10 minutes and slowing down gradually to once every 20 minutes.

  • There are around 1,500 matings to every cub that survives.

  • Lions are trained to hunt by their mothers when they are 7-12 months old. At 12 months, they start to hunt on their own, but by the time they are two years old the male cubs have to be perfect hunters because that’s when they are kicked out of the pride.

  • A lion hunts whenever it has the opportunity, whatever the weather, and an ‘opportunity’ is when a zebra, say, is less than 60-70m away.

  • Despite what we’re taught at school, it’s not just the female lions who do the hunting - as you can see from the picture above!

  • Lions sometimes roll in the droppings of the wildebeest or other prey animals to mask their scent when they hunt.

  • When lions yawn, it’s a sign that they’re about to move. 

  • Lions sleep and walk on the roads to avoid the dew in the long grass. 

  • Lions’ manes only fully develop after 4-6 years.