Animal Encounters 4 — Big Cats of Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains

Today on the blog, I'm recounting the tale of one of my absolute best experiences out in ‪the bush‬, a trip to the Serengeti National Park‬!

In Tanzania every national park has its own attractions. It’s hard to pick a favourite as they are all so wildly different. In Tarangire, it's the chance to see elephants en masse and the baobab trees that shade on them. In Ngorongoro, it's the magical animal-filled crater making for a surreal backdrop. And the Serengeti, it is one of the greatest and best national parks in the world to see four out of the 'big five'.

The 'big five', for the uninitiated, are the most ferocious animals when attacked: the lion, the leopard, the rhino, the elephant, and the buffalo. The rhino is the only one of the five that is virtually missing in the Serengeti. We were fortunate enough to spot rest of the four at close quarters on our two-day safari in the park. Given the huge number of pictures and videos capturing all those wonderful moments, this blog post is solely dedicated to Africa’s best-known carnivores, also referred to as ‘Big Cats’.

Quality cat sightings are considered to be the benchmark of a successful safari, and I believe we had quite a successful one. Get a glimpse at these majestic animals and the daily dramas awaiting all who visit the wild theatre-in-the-round that is Tanzania's Serengeti!


The leopard is the most elusive and secretive of the big cats. They are extremely difficult to spot when you are in the African bush. You should not expect them to simply stroll across the road. When they do, however, also expect to see too many safari vehicles around.

Leopards are predominantly solitary, unless you spot a female with two cubs.

Leopards are so well camouflaged and astonishingly beautiful with their black-on-gold rosettes and muscular build.

We had the chance to watch these beauties as they moved by, climbed up and disappeared into the tree. An extremely lucky encounter with these cats in the Serengeti National Park... ‪


The world’s most sociable and the second-largest cat after the tiger, the lion is the one you will easily spot in the Serengeti. The park has lots of lions and we bumped into one or the other quite often. One of the most memorable encounters though was the group of lionesses having a feast on a dead hippo body in turns.

After the rainfall, hippos come out of the water to graze, so it's the perfect chance for the lions to kill one, and for you to watch them eat their prey while their faces get smothered with blood.

Lions seldom move far in the heat of the day, so if you spot them at rest in the morning, especially nearby a great buffet, it’s worth returning later in the day to check for renewed activity.

The highlight of not only the lion-spotting but also the game drives was the lion pride we came across on our second day in the Serengeti. A pride typically consists of one adult male, two or three adult females, and several youngsters. Lucky for us, the one we found was a larger group comprised of 3 adult brothers, 3 females and 5 playful cubs.

One of the keys to a successful game-viewing is patience. We spent with these lions around two hours and we were rewarded by seeing the adults of the pride chase off an intruder lioness. Watch the video to the end for an intimidating and unique moment.

When not fighting, however, lions are remarkably relaxed, spending more than 20 hours at rest daily. Look at these cuddly and cute guys, you can barely resist their charm!


The cheetah is the fastest animal in the world thanks to its streamlined build. Surprisingly, however, it is also the most fainthearted and shy of all cats. A cheetah can easily be bullied off its kill by hyenas or lions, and that's why it is not in the list of 'big five'.

Cheetahs are normally solitary but coalitions of two-three brothers can often be seen in the Serengeti, where we got to meet the Dalton brothers for a patience contest. We kept on waiting to see them in an open chase, and they kept on creeping centimeter by centimeter to the gazelles, their intended prey of the day. In the end they won, we left them alone.


Despite their dog-like appearance, hyenas are more closely related to cats. The spotted hyena is regarded as Africa’s second-largest carnivore after the lion. Their sneaky build with a hunched back is possibly the reason of their reputation for being cowardly and timid scavengers, feeding on the leftovers of other predators. However, the hyenas can be dangerous, attacking animals and humans alike, and most of their diet comes from their own kills. In the Serengeti, we didn't see them in action, but we had seen them chasing the cows on the dried-up Lake Eyasi.

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About Maho

Nature lover, diving and travel enthusiast, Asian looking, Russian sounding, Turkish raised, Munich based stranger on Earth.


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