Tracking a Lion

ON SAFARI is an ongoing feature at Get Curious where we bring the safari to you. So grab a map and your compass and let’s head to Kenya, East Africa.

Our first topic is how to track a lion, which may sound simple but in fact, takes experience, skill and know how. So we’re bringing you the short and simple version. But first, a bit about the king of beasts.

Lions are the second largest big cat species in the world (tigers are the first). Most lions in the wild are found in East and Southern Africa. We don’t want to call lions lazy, but they do love a good nap and rest for about 20 hours a day. Female lions (lionesses) are better hunters than males and do most of the hunting for a pride. The average male lion weighs about 400 pounds, with females at least 100 pounds less. The roar of a lion can be heard up to five miles away. Why the roar? For communicating with other lions, establishing presence and claiming territory –– with roars mostly taking place at night because the air is thinner and sound travels further.

Now, on to tracking. These steps are very basic but they’ll get you moving in the right direction.

  • TRACKS. First, look for tracks that look like GIANT cat prints. A Lion has four distinct toes and a large pad below. The paw print will be about 5” across — a bit bigger for a male and a bit smaller for a female. Of course size will also depend on the cat’s age. Follow the tracks: are there more than one set? Big and small? An entire pride? Or maybe just a single male?
  • POOP. Follow the poop. Yes, poop. Fresh poop (scat) will say a lot. If it’s fresh, the lion may still be close. If it’s dry, the lion could be miles away.
  • SKY. Look up. Are any vultures circling anywhere in the sky? If so, there’s a good chance that lions will be feasting at a nearby kill.
  • ROCKS. Check out all the kopjes in the area (a kopje is a raised rocky outcrop in a fairly flat area; kopje is pronounced like copy). Lions dig kopjes because they provide excellent views over the savannah.
  • EARS. Look for dark ears sticking up out of the sea of tan grass. Or maybe a bit of a dark mane. Lions blend in with the grass and sometimes it’s just a matter of an ear or a mane that will give them away.
  • OTHER ANIMALS. Observe other animals around. If they’re nervous, there’s probably a good reason. A lion just might be lurking.

[Stay tuned for our next safari adventure: Animal Speeds and the Fastest Animal on the Savannah –– and no, it’s not the cheetah.]



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