National Geographic’s Mindblowing Interactive Serengeti Lion Feature

National Geographic recently published an interactive Serengeti lion feature that has the internet swooning. Complementing the coverage of the lions in the August 2013 print issue of the magazine, the interactive feature allows users to get up close and personal with the Vumbi pride. Michael “Nick” Nichols, a photographer, and Nathan Williamson, a videographer, made several trips to the Serengeti between July 2011 and January 2013. The duo used cameras mounted on a robotic tank and a remote-control toy car to obtain images that had never before been taken of the lions from low angles and within close proximity. These images were paired with the ones they took by hand and in total, Nichols collected 242,000 images and Williamson recorded 200 hours of video during this time.This interactive feature allows users to sneak into the private lives of these lions, lives that seem to always strike a delicate balance between feast and famine. Explore the Serengeti lion feature here.

Police Hunt For Lion In English Countryside (And Fail To Find One)

A mysterious beast stalks the fields of Essex, England.

Over the weekend local police received calls from a number of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen a lion in the fields near the village of St. Osyth. One person even snapped a predictably blurry and inconclusive picture of the beast. I’m not a wildlife expert but it looks like a house cat to me.

Police took the sightings seriously enough to scramble two helicopters and a team of officers and wildlife experts. They also checked with a local zoo and circus but neither reported a missing feline. After a long search they found … nothing.

A police spokesman said the sightings were probably due to “a large domestic cat or a wildcat,” the BBC reports. Police have called off the search and told people to enjoy themselves outdoors while remaining cautious. They should also have told them to stop overfeeding their pets with chips and kebabs and wasting police time.

This odd incident is actually part of a much bigger trend in the UK. Alien Big Cats, as they’re called, are giant felines not native to the area where they are spotted. Of course they’re never actually found. That would ruin the fun. We reported on one jaguar-like creature in Scotland three years ago and that’s just a drop in the Alien Big Cat bucket. The Big Cats in Britain research group has collected 240 different reports so far this year.

So why do Brits see lions and pumas in their fields while Americans get buzzed by UFOs? I guess it’s just one of those cultural differences we should all celebrate and not analyze too much. So next time you’re hiking in the UK, be sure to keep your camera out of focus. You might just start the next wave of Alien Big Cat sightings.

Don’t scoff too much, though. One woman said she was attacked by an Alien Big Cat. I’ve hiked a lot in England and Scotland and while I’ve never been attacked by an ABC (yes, that’s what they call them), I did nearly get attacked by cows.

[Photo courtesy Jennifer Barnard. As far as I know, this particular cat has never been the cause of a lion sighting]

The worst zoo I ever saw

I feel sorry for my Harari friends.

During my stay in Harar, Ethiopia, they were so hospitable, so eager to ensure I had a 100% positive impression of their city and country. For the most part I did, and I left for the capital Addis Ababa with lots of great things to say about Ethiopia.

They should have warned me not to visit the Lion Zoo in Addis Ababa.

It’s billed as a natural wonder, where you can see rare Ethiopian black-maned lions descended from the pride that was kept in Haile Selassie’s palace. In reality, it’s a sad display of animal cruelty and neglect.

The lions, primates, and other animals are kept in undersized cages with bare concrete floors. They look bored, flabby, resigned. Several of them look sick. Visitors shout at the listless animals or even throw pebbles to get them to move. Some toss packets of chocolate or potato chips to the monkeys and laugh as they tear the packages apart to get to the food inside.

The worst are the lions, proud carnivores, kings of the wilderness, reduced to trapped objects of amusement for bored city dwellers who don’t give a shit about nature. The lions lie around most of the time, doing nothing. Occasionally one will get its feet, shake its dirty mane, take a few steps before realizing there’s nowhere to go, and then sit down with an air of defeat.

The whole place made me feel ill, yet I can’t feel morally superior. I come from a country where people freak out if someone beats a dog but cheer when a Third World country gets carpet bombed. Where a zoo like this would be a national scandal but people eat meat raised on factory farms that make Ethiopia’s Lion Zoo look like a nature reserve. Only vegans can talk about animal cruelty from any moral high ground, and I’m not a vegan. Meat tastes too good.


But a travesty like this zoo is totally unnecessary. Ethiopia is anxious to promote itself as a tourist destination, a friendly, civilized country where Westerners can feel at home. Well, if it wants to do that, it better do something about the Lion Zoo.

Like shut it down.

So to my Harari friends, I’m sorry. You came close to getting a 100% positive series (well, except for my bumbling around Ethiopia’s Somali region) but it was not to be. I understand Ethiopia has bigger priorities than a few animals in a zoo in Addis Ababa, but if you want to make a positive impression on Western visitors, this place has got to go.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Harar, Ethiopia: Two months in Africa’s city of Saints.

Coming up next: Tomoca: the best little coffeehouse in Africa!

On safari in Kruger National Park

The African safari remains one of the most amazing experiences that any traveler could hope to enjoy. The boundless wildlife that is on display there is one of the greatest natural wonders in the world, and watching those hundreds of different species in their natural habitats is a source of never ending wonder.

There are two classic destinations to experience the African safari, the Serengeti, which spreads across Kenya and Tanzania, and Kruger National Park in South Africa. A few years back I had the opportunity to visit the Serengeti, and it remains one of my favorite destinations of all time. Recently I made the journey to Kruger as well, and while I found both places had wildlife in abundance, the safari experience was quite different between the two as well.

The first thing I noticed that was different, was the landscape. In Swahili, Serengeti means “the endless plain,” which is a fitting name indeed. It is a vast expanse of open grasslands, broken only by rolling hills and the occasional rock outcropping. Kruger, on the other hand, is marked by thick forests and lush green fields. While I was there in early February, summer rains had fueled the growth of the underbrush and caused the rivers to swell, which made for a warm, humid environment. A stark contrast to the more arid Serengeti.

That lush green growth made it a challenge to spot wildlife while on daily game drives. The thick brush gave the animals plenty of places to hide and concealed their movements. On the Serengeti, the wide open spaces always made it easy to spot game, sometimes from miles away.

Fortunately, I had some of the best guides on the continent showing me around, and we had no problems discovering where the wildlife hid. While traveling through Kruger, we came across hippos, buffalo, wildebeests, and zebras aplenty. There were monkeys and baboons, and antelope too numerous to count. There were also large herds of elephants, massive in size and more aggressive than their Serengeti counterparts. In short, Kruger didn’t disappoint in terms of spotting animals, you just had to look a bit more closely to find them.Perhaps the best of those wildlife encounters was with the smallest of creatures. In the early evening hours of my second day in the park we were traveling by safari vehicle down a deserted dirt road. It had rained that afternoon, but the sun broke through the clouds as it sunk in the west, providing some warmth as the day waned. Suddenly, our vehicle stopped short as we spotted a small, golden figure sitting in the road. It was a tiny lion cub, no more than two weeks old, and while its mother was away on the hunt, it had crawled out of its wet hiding spot seeking warmth in the sun. We watched the cub for nearly an hour as it stumbled about, occasionally calling out for mom. It was an amazing experience, made all the more special when our lead guide, an 18 year veteran of the profession, told us that he had never seen a lion so young.

Our chance discovery of the young cub wouldn’t be our only close encounter with the wildlife of Kruger. One afternoon, while driving back from a local village, we came across a very large bull elephant wandering the road. He was enormous, even by the standards of the species, and he was in a surly mood that day. For more than 20 minutes we played cat and mouse with the beast, looking for a way to get around him. More than once we put the van in reverse and backed off, as the bull strayed too close. Finally we made our escape when the creature momentarily wandered behind a tree, giving us just the opening we needed to speed past. It was a narrow escape however, and as we sped away, the elephant charged from around the tree, nearly clipping our vehicle as we roared down the road.

In all, I spent six days in Kruger, and was given the chance to explore it both on foot and by vehicle. In those days, I found that it lived up to its billing as one of the top safari destinations in all of Africa. Not only is the wildlife all that you would expect, and more, but the landscapes are breathtaking as well. In my travels within the park boundaries, I saw beautiful rivers, emerald forests, and stunning canyons. The gorgeous scenery was an element I wasn’t expecting, and it helped to further separate Kruger from the Serengeti.

Since my return, I’ve already been asked by friends which destination I’d recommend for someone heading to Africa on safari. That isn’t an easy question to answer, as both places will offer you a memorable travel experience that you will never forget. By response is that it is impossible to choose, and that it is best to see them both for yourself.

This trip was sponsored by South African Tourism and South African Airways, but the ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.

Favorite lion shot in Namibia

A black-maned lion nicknamed “Old Boy” has been shot in Etosha National Park, Namibia. This is the second lion to be killed in the park in the past five months. Both lions were collared, meaning park rangers were studying and protecting them.

“Old Boy” had been a favorite among visitors for years because he lived near Hobatere Lodge. Conservationists believe he was the most frequently seen lion in the country. The park has a no-shoot policy towards collared lions, which didn’t stop a professional hunter from killing “Old Boy.” The hunter had a permit, but officials want to know why he targeted a lion that was being studied. The hunting party claimed they didn’t see the collar until the lion was dead. They also claim the lion attacked them, something “Old Boy” had never done before, although in a separate interview the hunters didn’t mention any attack.

The incident highlights the troubles conservationists face in trying to preserve animals on a continent where big game hunting is still popular.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]