The African Lion is the Undisputed King of the Jungle
2,100 African Lions are on the Prowl in Kenya
The African Lion, fittingly referred to as "the king of the jungle," is truly regal. That the lion, called Simba in the Kiswahili language, is the undisputed symbol of courage is borne out by the fact that 2 spear-wielding lions feature on Kenya's coat of arms.
. Kenya is home to about 2,100 lions. The Kenyan species are the biggest and fiercest in the world and seeing them strutting across the Kenyan savanna will fill you with awe.
Somewhat smaller than its male counterpart, the lioness is arguably the real "queen of the jungle," doing all the household chores of hunting and taking care of the cubs.
Lions, along with leopards, buffalos, rhinos and elephants, constitute the "big five."
They are critical to Kenya's tourism because they are a considered to be an indicator of a habitat's wilderness and pristinely nature.
Many of these prized carnivores can be seen in their natural habitat in virtually all Kenya's National Parks such as Nairobi, Nakuru, Aberdares, Marsabit, Shaba, Isiolo and Tana River. However, your best bet is:
- Masai Mara where innumerable prides of the world's largest and fiercest lions roam free. In fact, fully one-quarter of the country's population of 2000 lions can be found in the Mara.
- Samburu in Northern Kenya where a lioness adopted an oryx! Read on for more on this story and
- the 2 coterminous Tsavo National Parks, which together form Kenya's biggest wildlife sanctuarys. At the close of the nineteenth century, Tsavo's lions were notorious for attacking and eating Indian workers who had been brought in to construct the Kenya-Uganda Railway.
If you want to see the African lion up close though, then be sure to visit the following places:
- Nairobi Animal Orphanage which is home to no less than 14 lions. The best time to visit the orphanage is in the afternoon when the lions' feisty ward David Mascall feeds them and humorously recounts their personal stories
- Nairobi Safari Walk. Here you can see the lions in a quasi-wild setting. Only a pane of toughened glass separate you from a lion and 2 lionesses so it's almost as if there are no barriers between you and these beasts. Be sure to check out these military flashlight reviews to get a torch to give you a clear view.
If, like my family, you fancy seeing the lions feeding from less then a foot away, plan to arrive there in the late afternoon. And oh, the lions feed in the comfort of their reinforced cage so no need to freak out.
As a wildlife safari will probably the climax of your visit to Kenya, rather than have your holiday off to a roaring start, it is always advisable to have your safari come to an end with a roar.
Kenya Lions Anecdotes
The Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo
The Tsavo maneaters were a pair of maneless lions that disrupted the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway in 1898. This is because they would drag Indian workers from their tents at night and devour them.
They were eventually shot and killed by Col. Patterson, who oversaw the construction of the railway. He published his extraordinary experiences in his 1907 book, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo.
He used their skins as rugs but later sold these to the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. The museum reconstructed the lions and they are now on permanent display there.
Born Free immortalizes the experiences of George and Joy Adamson in raising Elsa, a young African lion cub and eventually releasing her into the wild.
It chronicles different stages of her development in an incredibly entertaining manner. The story is set in the incredibly beautiful Meru National Park which straddles the equator and is located 348 km from Nairobi.
In fact, Elsa's grave is located in the park and tourists can read a synopsis of her story on the epitaph.
The Lioness and the Oryx
In apocalyptic style that defied the law of the jungle and baffled wildlife experts, a lioness called Kumuniak successively adopted and dotted on 6 oryx calves in Samburu National Reserve in 2002.
All the adoptions ended either through attacks by other lions or successful rescue missions by either the calves' mothers or game rangers who were concerned that some of the calves would starve to death.
The oryx rescued by the game rangers can be seen at the Nairobi Safari Walk. He subsequently lost a horn in a bull fight.
It is believed that Kumuniak adopted these oryxes in order to fulfill her maternal instincts as she could not conceive.
This extraordinary lioness has not been seen since February 2004. However, you can still visit Samburu National Reserve and hear the game rangers recount this improbable story firsthand.
Lions in Kenya on the Verge of Extinction
The African lion population in the country has plummeted from around 10,000 in the 1970s to barely 2,000 today. This sad state of affairs is attributable to a series of factors.
This is first, because spearing a lion - a centuries-old tradition referred to as olamayio in Maa, the language spoken by the Masai - is part of a young Masai warrior's rite of passage into manhood.
Although killing any wildlife in the country is clearly illegal, olamayio persists and sparks off a lion killing race, as the young warriors (called morans) try to outdo each other by spearing even more lions.
The second and more severe threat emanates from unregulated use of carbofuran (Furadan). This is a highly toxic insecticide that has been banned in most of the developed world but can be bought over the counter in Kenya.
Pastoralists who live adjacent wildlife parks use the insecticide to kill predators which threaten their herds. Animals and birds that prey on carcasses of animals which have ingested carbofuran are themselves killed.
Sadly, calls to ban the use of the insecticide in Kenya have not yet been heeded by the government.
African Lion Films
Out of Africa
Out of Africa is about Danish writer Karen Blixen who traveled to Kenya to join her German husband but wound up falling for an English explorer. Part of the setting for this 1985 multiple-Oscar winner is the Masai Mara, the premier address for African lions.
Born Free immortalizes the experiences of George and Joy Adamson in raising Elsa, a young lion cub and eventually releasing her into the wild. It chronicles different stages of her development in an incredibly entertaining manner.
Lion King is a breathtaking animated feature from Disney that has been a smash hit on both the big and small screens.
It is about a power struggle between Simba, a feisty lion cub and his uncle. It is bound to inspire you with its messages of courage and hope. Its Kenyan connection? Well, "hakuna matata" (the Swahili language phrase for carefree attitude) theme pervades the entire film.
African Lion Books
Big Cat Diary: Lion by Jonathan Scott and Angela Scott
Big Cat Diary: Lion offers an amazing insight into the lives of Kenya lions; their critical life stages, daily routine as well as hierarchical structures.
Jonathan Scott, co-presenter of the highly acclaimed BBC's Big Cat Diaries, has been to the Masai Mara for extended periods every year since 1996 so nobody else knows more about the country's lions.