Friday, May 19, 2006

Simba Love

"You missed lion sex," announced a passenger in the Gamewatchers Land Rover as our Land Cruiser pulled up alongside in Masai Mara.

I was disappointed. I'd been on a lot of safaris in Africa, and even been to Kenya's Masai Mara once before, but I hadn't ever seen lion sex.

"Wait fifteen minutes," whispered a different passenger in my vehicle.

We did. A large maned male and a white-bellied lioness slept side-by-side on the dirt road. They were both breathing rapidly and shallowly.

The male kept opening his eyes and glancing at the female, leading to several "he's checking to see if she's ready" jokes.

But Gordon Ormondi, the safari guide behind the wheel of our Land Cruiser said: "No, he's keeping an eye on her to make sure no other males try to cut in. They mate several times a day for seven days, and other males can smell her and wait to see if they can take over."

Sure enough, a few minutes later someone announced, "Look, another lion."

Another male prowled nearby. He'd lie in the grass, eyeballing the female, then he'd pace a few feet closer before lying down. He'd roll over on his back and pretend to be asleep.

"He must be from the same pride," said Gordon. "Or he wouldn't even be allowed to come this close."

The female lion raised her head. The male's head shot up. She stood up. He stood up too, and went straight to her side. He was bigger and easily placed himself above her back legs. He did his lion thing for just a few seconds before she growled ferociously. He snarled back, surely trying to tell her who was boss, but she then growled louder. He gave up and staggered away. She started to stalk off, so he walked directly aside her, always between her and the other male, until she collapsed in an exhausted heap. The male lay down too.

We waited.

The lion porn was repeated several times over the course of the day, and the lions were always there when we'd check after driving around and looking at other animals, like zebra, elephants, giraffes, hippos, and of course, dik-diks. Towards the end of the day, we saw dozens of the common Nissans as the afternoon safari drives began.

Then, Tippa—our Masaai wildlife spotter who'd earlier declared his favorite animals to be goats and sheep—pointed. "There."

Four lionesses and one young male were prowling through the tall yellow-green savannah. The jealous male that we'd seen before was right in their path.

"If they are of the same pride," said Gordon. "They will greet each other by grooming each other. If not, we may see one hell of a fight."

They were not friends. The jealous male first chased the young male away. Then he returned to claim the four females.

He marched up to the largest female. She was right next to our open-sided Land Cruiser. There was about ten feet between the vehicle and the lioness.

"ROAAAAR!" The female growled a tremendous roar and swatted at the male, advancing on his position. He roared back and jumped forward, then backed up.

We all jumped.

"I really don't want to be here," said a woman in the backseat.

Gordon quickly turned on the Land Cruiser and backed us away.

"Sometimes the lions can move around when they fight, and then could hit the car," he explained.

The male, meanwhile, appeared to think better of his conquest. He backed off slowly, while the female stood her ground. The male then chased a smaller female across the plains, towards the gazelles and ostriches in the distance.

"It's time to go back to camp," said Gordon. We pulled away, visiting the mating pair once again. They were still at it.

P.S. Photos to come.

No comments: