Lions, Leopards and cheetahs are the cats we saw in both the Serengeti and Tarangire parks.
In all of Africa the Serengeti has the largest population of lions some 3000 of them. They live mostly in the plains, in the tall grasses where blending in and camouflage make a difference. Because of the dynamics of the Serengeti ecosystem and the abundance of grasses, the area attracts vast herds of hoofed animals. The wildebeest, zebra and gazelles migrate seasonally following the rains and fresh grasses. There is also healthy populations of hartebeest, topi, reedbuck, waterbuck, eland, impalas, buffalo, warthogs and many others. This is why there is a large lion population in the Serengeti. Feeding on the abundance of larger animals has made these cats more adaptable and the most social of all of the other cats.
We had one experience watching a “kill”. We were driving one afternoon on the savanna through the high grasses. We were slowly passing by a large herd of wildebeest when off to the left of us we spotted a lion crouching in the grasses near a group of 3 wildebeest. I think that we spooked the wildebeest as we approached in the Land Cruiser, they darted off in all directions. The lion was able to single out one and grab into its neck. Taking the wildebeest down the lion gripped tighter on the neck holding it down for about 10 minutes until the wildebeest suffocated to death. The lion rested for several minutes, panting heavily and then proceeded to turn the wildebeest on its back and began tearing at the under belly, the softest part of the wildebeest. We watched for a while as the lion feasted, amazed that we actual saw this happen. More info on lions.
Leopards have a population of 1000 in the Serengeti. We did not see many, maybe only a 1/2 dozen. Found mostly in trees. There spotted coat blends in with the leaves for camouflage and so they can spring with a deadly pounce on their pray below. They also make very good grass hunters stalking animals in the tall grasses. The leopard is very strong and is comfortable being in a tree. It is able to haul its kill into the tree for safe keeping. Most of the leopards we saw were resting in a very leafy part of the tree. One was living in a group of tree near the camp. We would drive by the trees in the mornings and late afternoons looking for the leopard, most of the time we saw it. More info on leopards.
When first arriving, we marveled at the way Edgar, our guide, could be driving the vehicle, watching out for pot holes in the dirt roads, scanning the horizon and everything in between and spot animals. He then started to tell us what to look for. With the leopard you look near the bottom of the leaf line in the trees for the leopard’s tail. Resting for most of the day in a tree a leopards tail often hangs down below the branches, the tail can measures between 2 – 3.6 feet long.
The second largest population of cheetahs live in the Serengeti about 1500 them. Hard to spot in the tall grasses, we did not see many, only two times we found them. On our initial drive from the landing strip we came across several of them just off the side of the road. Known to drag its kill to a shady spot under a tree, the cheetahs we saw where lying in the shade, next to a kill, on a little mound within the grasses resting, panting as they digested the food. Another animal with a spotted coat, it blends in very easily in the tall grasses. They can go 0 – 60 miles in only three seconds and achieve top speeds 70 mph. Interestingly the cheetah gives up its kill to other smaller scavengers like an aggressive hyena as well as to lions. Speed is the cheetahs hunting technique and it cannot risk getting injured fighting for the kill. Below are some of the pictures. More info on cheetahs.