While there weren’t herds of wildebeest and zebra, or harrowing river crossing with chomp chomp chomping crocodiles, we saw a lot of lion mating.
And when I was making our photo book of Kenya, I had to sort through like 800 lion mating photos. Mostly my husbands. You can draw your own conclusions–maybe he was just so excited during his first safari? Yea, I think so.
We saw two different pairs of lions on two different days mating in the Masai Mara. Lions have extremely peculiar mating patterns. Apparently leopards have similar patterns (but who ever is lucky enough to see mating leopards?!). Lions mate about every 15 minutes (range is between 5-20 minutes typically) for 3-5 days. You can do the math, but this means that lions can mate easily between 300-500 times, depending on how long the male can last. We were told that the males don’t eat while mating, so they become extremely fatigued and eventually have to find something to chow on. Lion mating isn’t always successful (typically 1 in 5 female estrus cycles results in a live cub)–and scientists are still working to better understand the reasons why.
The second pair we saw was definitely interesting–while it is not uncommon for females to mate with more than one male, in this case, there was a young male who was tailing the older male and “his” female. The female was obviously more interested in the younger male, and in addition to mating, the older male was wasting a ton of energy trying to herd off the younger male and control the female. The female wasn’t having much of it, and the older male was getting pretty frustrated. The younger male was staying just close enough to be annoying and be an opportunist, and just far enough to not make the older male lion too mad. We didn’t see her mate with the younger male, but given how tired the older male seemed, I’m guessing that it happened relatively soon. Usually there is no fighting–when one male gets exhausted, he will leave to eat/hunt and the other male swoops in to pick up where the other left off.
Though I’ve been to Africa and on safari a number of times, animal behavior just fascinates me and I had never seen mating lions. And this, to me, is one of the most wonderful things about a safari: no matter how many times you’ve been, you always see something fascinating and new. It’s when I fantasize secretly–oh, who am I kidding, I totally fantasize out loud–about moving to Africa and studying animal behavior. Or just going on safari once a month.