Imagine a lion encounter where you are sitting in the middle of a pride of lions as they feast upon their recent killing of a zebra.
Sounds incredible. My family and I experienced this when we were out on a morning game drive at Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa.
In this post, you can read about my encounter with lions and why coming face to face with a pride of feeding lions is one of the most amazing experiences ever!
First Sightings of A Zebra Kill
Our ranger had heard over the radio that there were sightings of a kill. Three female lions had killed a zebra and dragged it to a feeding spot.
With both excitement and trepidation, we made our way to the bush area where the lions had gathered.
Shamwari has a strict policy that only one vehicle at a time has contact near any animal sightings, which meant that we were the first to reach the kill site and witness this fantastic lion encounter.
Two females ripped the zebra carcass apart while another looked on.
We were in the middle of them and could hear the crunching of razor-sharp teeth on bones while panting and growling came from the lions as they fed. It was a surreal experience, and I felt like I was in a David Attenborough documentary!
Is a Human as tasty as a Zebra?
The lions weren’t bothered that we were within almost touching distance of them, but we were pretty scared.
Female lions are the pride’s primary hunters and are smaller and more agile than males.
They use teamwork to bring an animal down and then share the prize. We hoped we wouldn’t be on their radar today!
I realised I had a zebra-patterned blanket across my knees for warmth and thought they might view me as another dining course.
Our ranger reassured us that while the lions were feeding, they were not bothered by us being there.
They would regard our jeep as a large unit rather than us as individual bodies and would not be interested in the effort they would need to put in to attack us.
And why would they want our meagre bodies when they had two meaty zebras to devour?
Another female lion looked over the seven lion cubs in the pride.
The cubs frolicked with her in the thicket, playfully jumping on her back and nipping her while she attempted to calm them down.
Like human children, they didn’t understand that mum wanted peace before dinner.
After around 30 minutes of watching the lions, we eventually returned to Quatermain’s Safari Camp in Amakhala Game Reserve.
After an afternoon of napping and relaxing, our ranger asked us if we would like to return to the lions at night! Of course, we said yes; let’s face it, you only live once.
Returning in the moonlight was an even more terrifying but exhilarating experience.
Unbelievably, the lions were still munching on the kill, but there was noticeably less of it.
With the beam of the jeep, we could see their stomachs were now entirely distended, having gorged on so much zebra! Again, they glanced up at us but were unimpressed by our presence.
The average lion kills every three to four days and must eat 5kg – 7kg of meat daily.
This fact explains why they were still feeding when we returned at night. Our ranger told us they would probably sleep up to 20 hours after feeding!
Alone in the Darkness
Our ranger told us to get ready and then switched the jeep’s lights off. We sat alone in the darkness.
We could only hear the contented sounds from the lions and the occasional crunch of bone.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see the male lion but listened to his roar in the distance. He was patrolling his territory and calling to his females.
We eventually asked our ranger if we could leave. Even though it was a magical experience, it was unnerving not to see where the lions were compared to the Jeep.
The headlight beams lit up the thicket, and our ranger asked if it was safe to reverse. The answer was no – a lion was sprawled across the grass behind the jeep.
Luckily, with a few gentle revs of the engine, our lioness decided to move, and we were free to depart this incredible setting.
I never thought we would get this chance to be up so close to these magnificent animals.
We all put all our faith in our ranger to keep us safe – and alive. She did a great job; although we found out later she had only been armed with a torch and a zoom-lens camera but no weapon!
For us, this was an utterly magical experience in Africa. Oh, and did I mention this was our first and only safari? We must have had luck on our side that day!
Facts About Lions
A pride of lions can be up to 30 members strong if there are enough food and water supplies for them all to survive.
A lion’s call or roar can be heard by its pride up to eight kilometres away.
Lions mark their territory by urinating in the area. Other lions then know not to invade that space.
Lions are the second largest cat species in the world. The first is a tiger.
Lions can see six times better in the dark than humans.
Lions are the only member of the cat family to live in a group or pride.
Information on Shamwari Game Reserve
Shamwari is located next to the Amakhala Game Reserve. The International Born Free Foundation has two big cat sanctuaries in Shamwari Game Reserve for rescued captive lions and leopards.
The cats are in vast enclosures, giving them space and privacy. The lions we encountered were in the wild within the reserve and, thankfully, had not been rescued from terrible conditions.
Shamwari is one of South Africa’s premier luxury safari camps with facilities and accommodations to match.
On my safari trip, I could pass from land at Amakhala to land at Shamwari as different animals were on each of the two reserves.
This has now stopped, and Amakhala has reintroduced cats to their land. If you want to see the big cat sanctuaries, you must be a Shamwari guest.
Helpful Information on Amakhala Game Reserve
Amakhala Game Reserve is located 50 minutes from Port Elizabeth at the end of the Garden Route.
Port Elizabeth has a national airport, allowing easy travel to and from the reserve.
Amakhala is the premier game reserve in the Eastern Cape and has a land area of 8,500 hectares. It is also malaria-free.
Ten different styles of accommodation are available, from tented camps to luxury rooms.
Book a day safari to see the Big 5 and other local species if an overnight stay is impossible.
Hlosi Game Lodge offers a day safari and a cruise along the river.
Cruises along the Bushman River to spot hippos can make your visit even more exciting.