Earnest Hemingway once said: ï¿½There can no more thrilling experience than the first sight of a full-maned lion on the plains of Africa', and there is certainly no more thrilling sound than that of a lion's roar carrying across the African landscape.
Once ranging over a great deal of Africa and Asia lions today are confined to protected areas in Africa - with a small population in India. Despite being one of the most adaptable species in Africa lion numbers are in decline across the continent due to factors such as human encroachment and diseases such as feline HIV. Lions have adapted to most of Africa's eco-systems and are even found in arid regions such as the Namib Desert and areas of the Kalahari as well as swampy areas such as the Okavango Delta.
The King of the Beasts
Lions have been immortalised in history as the rulers of the African plains - but how close to the truth is this legend? It is true to say that lions are the dominant predator in many wilderness areas of the continent but there are many places where hyenas are top of the predator chain. In fact it is known that the control of specific areas interchanges between the two species.
What happens when hyenas are in control of an area? Unlike the dramatic and depressing version of a hyena controlled area as depicted in The Lion King, there is not much difference except for the fact that the lions of the area tend to be more timid when confronted by a hyena clan.
Lion prey and hunting
The prey of lions varies greatly across the continent and usually depends on the availability and numbers of particular prey species. Buffalo are generally the largest prey species that lions hunt although records of lions hunting elephants have been recorded from some parts of Africa. Hippo and immature rhinos are also known to have fallen prey to lions.
Despite their depiction as the 'king of the beasts' lions are opportunistic feeders and are commonly known to scavenge - from other predators and from long dead carcasses they find. In fact in some areas they scavenge more than hyenas do.
Lions are also the least successful predators in Africa with a chase-to-kill success rate of less than thirty percent in most areas. In tough times lions have been known to eat rotting fish and have also been observed feeding on termites.
Best places to see lions in Africa
Lions are what most people want to see on an African safari and the continent seldom disappoints. Relatively common in the parks and reserves of Africa they are the predators that are most often encountered.
Most of the better-known reserves will provide lion sightings so to choose the best places to see lions in Africa is a difficult task, however, the Masai Mara in Kenya, Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, South Luangwa in Zambia and the Sabi Sands in South Africa will provide some of the best opportunities.