As we sat by the roaring fire at The Manor at Ngorongoro, everyone was excitedly chattering about the day’s various game drives they’d been on. We’d just arrived to Ngorongoro and had an eventful day in Tarangire with our first lion sighting and a herd of elephants that entertained us as they played in a watering hole before our flight to Lake Manyara. My ears perked up as I first heard the couple across from me mention how awful the weather must be at home in Pennsylvania. Small world! That was the conversation icebreaker and before long they were regaling us with how they’d seen a pride take down a Cape Buffalo and the lions feast on their kill that morning. I couldn’t wait for our Ngorongoro game drive the next day.
It didn’t take long after we’d descended into the Ngorongoro Crater before we spotted our first lions – three males just sitting in the grass. Two of the lions were just watching. Waiting. As the third lifted his head and then decided we weren’t very interesting, we realized there wasn’t going to be much excitement from this pride. Despite our very early start, it was already nearing 9am and chances we’d be witnessing a kill were slim.
Lions tend to hunt at night or very early in the morning. Much of the rest of the day, usually around 20 – 22 hours, lions do exactly what we’d just observed – sleep. Sounds like an easy life, right? After all, lions are the king of the beasts.
Wrong. Lions actually have quite a hard life, despite their reign over the African savannah and placement at the top of the food chain. Lions aren’t fast animals, especially in comparison to their common prey like wildebeest that can reach top speeds around 80 kilometers per hour and effortlessly maintain their speed over long distances. Lions have terrible stamina.
Up ahead we see a commotion and what seems like all of the vehicles in Ngorongoro Crater gathering. Earlier a pride of lions had taken down a Cape Buffalo and while we didn’t see that (the guides estimated the kill had probably occurred between 5am – 6am), we did witness the lions feast on their kill. It might sound gruesome to watch them eat, but we were fascinated.
Usually it is the female lions that are responsible for hunting, but this pride was made of up four males and just one female. A group hunt typically only has a 30% success rate and of the majority of hunts that scientists have observed, the most successful ones occur at night with dense cover. So here on the wide open plains of Ngorongoro Crater, this kill was something special to witness in the circle of life.
Lions expend all of their energy in the hunt and when plenty of food is available, like with this Cape Buffalo, they will gorge themselves into near immobility. There is a hierarchy in who eats first, with the pride leader (usually the largest male) eating first. He’d already had his share and the others were feasting when we’d arrived. Hyenas and jackals sat waiting nearby, just hoping for any morsel.
Those jackals were practically fearless and no matter how many times the lioness warned them off, they were persistent in trying to get a piece. One little jackal finally succeeded, only to have the chunk of meat literally ripped away from him by a hyena.
We continued to watch for a while as the lions took turns eating and ripping open the body to eat the heart, liver and kidneys. The pride leader rested in the shade of our line of safari vehicles, blood still dripping from his mane. We were in no danger – he’d just eaten himself into a sleep and still had plenty for later.
We reluctantly left the lions as the pride leader slowly wandered down to a puddle for a drink. The day was really just getting started and we already had tales we’d be telling to the newcomers at The Manor that evening. What would the rest of the day hold?
Our trip to Tanzania was hosted by SkySafari by Elewana in order for us to bring you this story. As always, all opinions are entirely our own.