Cats are my favourite animals. Their behaviour is similar across the spectrum, from domestic cats to lions. Well, similar except in mating.
The first lioness we saw in Naboisho was well hidden on a rocky slope covered with bush. She groomed herself and then moved on, out of sight. The buffalo grazing below the slope in the lush green of the wetland was more impressive. Their bovine eyes gazed peacefully out at the car, chewing cud. Yet they were more feared by hunters.
The next viewing was more impressive. In the Masai Mara Reserve we got excited.
“There’s a lion” we all shouted in unison. He was walking through the tall grass towards a rocky outcrop.
“There’s another lying on the granite cap. Get ready for a head rub”, said Marius. It’s easy now that I know these two are brothers, and when I think of my cats when they meet after a day out, they also rub heads. But I did not expect these two lions, the one who still had to walk one hundred meters to the hill, and climb it, to rub heads.
The one lying down roared. It was solid sound in our ears we were so close. You could touch the vibration. The first lion was now in the scrub to the right. He disappeared. We waited. The crest was covered in scrub for about thirty meters, and the granite opening was just big enough for two lions to lie. “Get ready for the head rub”, repeated Marius, checking his camera settings. In a flash the brother came out of the bush into the warm soft morning light, and they rubbed heads then lay down. Just like cats.
The next impressive sighting started with a lioness that seemed to be hunting a herd of wildebeest in Paradise Plains. We watched her for a while but moved off because there were too many vehicles. Onesmus was looking the other way and spotted the same male leopard on a slope we had seen him on a few days before. “Leopard” was all he whispered, and we drove off.
We lost the leopard but found two more lionesses walking in a nearby valley. They stopped, one on a termite mound, to roar. They were walking towards the lioness that was hunting. They tackled each other like kittens playing, and then called again. The hunting lioness answered and one of the two lay down, paws stretched out in front of her. “She’s waiting for the hunting lioness”, said Marius. “Get ready for a jump.” I had seen this before in my cats so I knew what to expect but the lens I had trained on the lioness was too big and I missed the action. The three turned around to walk up the valley, and were joined by the two brothers in the early darkness of evening. The females continued playing with each other as they made their way up the valley to crest. The males roared gently every now and then.
As I said, cat behaviour is similar across the spectrum except when lions mate. More about that tomorrow.