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Unexpected Destinations for Lion Sightings

To put it simply, if a lion sighting doesn't get your blood pumping, you probably shouldn't be on safari. Whether you've never had a chance to visit Africa, or if you're approaching your hundredth safari, a glimpse of 'the king of the jungle' is always special.


For those planning safaris in 2022 and beyond, and particularly those who are seeking out spectacular lion viewing, the options can sometimes feel overwhelming. It is certainly true that most large protected areas in Africa are home to at least a handful of lions, and this can sometimes leave visitors with a misleading impression when it comes to lion populations on the continent. These big cats are, in fact, deeply threatened across the continent as a result of habitat loss, prey depletion and human-wildlife conflict. In total, and estimates do vary, there may be as few as 15,000 lions left in Africa (the Indian population excluded), with perhaps as few as 3,000 in West and Central Africa.


We at Pictus Safaris passionately believe that ecotourism is a powerful tool to help secure the future of many of Africa's most threatened species, including lions. Whilst this is evident in the larger protected areas in Eastern and Southern Africa, many smaller protected areas hardly ever feature of tourist itineraries, meaning that management authorities struggle to finance the protection of keystone species. For those planning safaris in years to come, we highly recommend spending your hard-earned money in areas that are 'off-the-beaten-path' - not only will you have the experience of a lifetime, but your visit will go so much further towards protecting the wildlife we all love.


With this in mind, here are our 'Top Ten' unexpected destinations for lion sightings in Africa. Let us know in the comments if you have visited any of these areas, or are planning to in the future!



10. Zakouma National Park, Chad


Lion Population: c.130


Lion Density: 1 lion per 23.1 sq/km


Overview: It's now an open secret that some of the very best game-viewing in all of African can be found in Zakouma National Park. Boasting vast herds of tiang, spectacular gatherings of birdlife, all of the 'Big Five' and some of the best night drives in the world, there are increasingly few reasons for any serious safari-goer not to visit. In fact, it is possible for guests to spot leopard, lion, cheetah, serval, caracal, wild cat, honey badger, aardvark, striped hyena and pale fox during their stay - and all this in Central Africa!


The lion viewing in Zakouma is excellent, particularly in the areas around Rigueik Pan and Tinga Camp. In fact, during our last visit, we had lions mating in camp - we didn't sleep a wink! Due to the excellent management of African Parks, which has restored Zakouma to much of its former glory, lions can now be found throughout the park. Given the number of cubs we have seen in recent years, we wouldn't be surprised if the population is growing.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris visits Zakouma on our 'The Greatest Show on Earth' small-group safari in March 2022, available for just £2,995 for 9 nights.


9. Pendjari National Park, Benin


Lion Population: c.100


Lion Density: 1 lion per 27.6 sq/km


Overview: Another park that has seen a reversal of fortunes under the stewardship of African Parks, Pendjari is arguably the finest wilderness area in West Africa. Part of the trans-boundary WAP Complex, contiguous with Arli National Park in Burkina Faso and Parc du W in Niger, this ecosystem is perhaps most famous for hosting the last remaining cheetah in the region. However, the lion viewing can also be spectacular. These West African lions often most closely resemble the lions of Gir in India, rather than those elsewhere in Africa, with less fulsome manes and smaller bodies. Any chance to glimpse members of such a rare population is a real treat indeed.


Sadly, Burkina Faso and Niger have seen deepening instability in recent years, and some of this has bled across to Benin. As such, the productive game-viewing routes in the far north of the park are no longer accessible to visitors. The south of the park, including the excellent Mare Bali, remain open for tourism, and guests stand a chance of spotting lion, bush elephant, cheetah and serval during their stay.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris offer a trail-blazing 11-night 'The Jewel of West Africa' small-group safari, taking in Pendjari as well as Gnanhouizounme and Kikele Sacred Forest, in December 2022, available from just £2,795 per person.




8. Batéké Plateau National Park, Gabon


Lion Population: 1


Lion Density: 1 lion per 2,034 sq/km


Overview: At first glance, Gabon isn't prime habitat for lions. So it must have been a huge surprise to Philipp Henschel and the rest of the Panthera team when they camera-trapped a single male lion in the south-east corner of the country in 2015. The last previous evidence of lions here was collected 11 years previously in 2004, and they were widely assumed to have been locally extirpated. It has since been determined that this lion hadn't come into the area from any other known populations, suggesting that a tiny population of lions still exist in the border area between Gabon and the Congo.


Visitors to Gabon shouldn't expect to see lions, for now at least, but there is a huge array of other wildlife in the country, making it one of the most exciting safari destinations on the continent today.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris only offer private departures to Gabon currently - to find out more, contact us at contact@pictus-safaris.com.


7. Nyika National Park, Malawi


Lion Population: 2


Lion Density: 1 lion per 1,567 sq/km


Overview: Perhaps better known as the best place in Malawi to spot leopard, the stunning surrounds of the Nyika Plateau are typically only visited by safari-connoisseurs. This may all be about to change, though, as recent years have seen the return of lions to the core game-viewing area around the luxurious Chelinda Lodge. First, in early 2019, a male lion took up residence in the park, which also boasts populations of elephant, buffalo, roan and bushbuck. Then, shortly after, reports came in of a lone lioness entering the park from the north.


It should be no surprise that Nyika attracts lions, with reasonably plentiful prey and excellent habitat nestled between the wild Luangwa Valley and the expansive emptiness of southern Tanzania. As the management of Nyika, and other Malawian reserves including Kasungu and Vwaza Marsh, improves, we can see this area becoming hugely in-demand amongst those 'in-the-know'.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris visit Nyika on our 10-night 'Mysterious Malawi' small-group safari in November 2022, available from just £1,695 per person.




6. Yankari National Park, Nigeria


Lion Population: c.5


Lion Density: 1 lion per 450 sq/km


Overview: Probably the lion population with the bleakest outlook in all of Africa, the number of big cats in what was once considered Nigeria's finest wilderness area has crashed in recent years. Extensive surveys have struggled to find any evidence that lions persist here, although we do know that a handful are clinging on to survival.


Yankari does however protect some of the last leopard, bush elephant and spotted hyena in Nigeria, so there are plenty of reasons to visit even if you don't get a chance to glimpse lions. For serious mammal-watchers, it is also a good spot to find species and sub-species rarely seen elsewhere in Africa, including tantalus monkey, western hartebeest and Patas monkey.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris only currently offer private departures to Nigeria - contact us at contact@pictus-safaris.com to learn more.


5. Bale Mountains National Park, Ethiopia


Lion Population: c.50


Lion Density: 1 lion per 43 sq/km


Overview: Despite unfettered pastoralism and mismanagement, it is still possible to visit Ethiopia (albeit highly unlikely) and spot lion, leopard, cheetah and wild dog. Many of these keystone species are found on Ethiopia's southern border with Kenya, but small populations of lion remain in other areas including Awash National Park and Bale Mountains. The latter is best known for being a stronghold for Africa's most endangered canid, the Ethiopian wolf, but also offers very rewarding game-viewing in the little-visited Harenna Forest. Guests here might spot the endemic Bale monkey, giant forest hog, melanistic leopard and black-maned lions, as well as some of Ethiopia's very last African wild dogs. When one also factors in the excellent serval and caracal viewing in the Gaysay Grasslands, it is no wonder this is such a popular destination.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris visit the Bale Mountains, as well as Awash, Aledeghi and the Senkelle Wildlife Sanctuary, on our 11-night 'Rare Mammals of Ethiopia' small-group safari in March 2022, available from £4,395 per person.





4. Chinko Nature Reserve, Central African Republic


Lion Population: c.30


Lion Density: 1 lion per 586.7 sq/km


Overview: Chinko must be the single most exciting destination in Africa for those planning safaris in 2022 and beyond. Just opening up after years of conflict, this wilderness area is situated at the confluence of dense riverine rainforest and open savanna, allowing it to support a stunning array of wildlife. There are probably significantly more than thirty lions here, in addition to leopard, wild dog, giant eland, bongo, all four African species of pangolin, golden cat, forest elephant and so much more.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris offer a 'The Dark Heart of Africa' tour to Chinko, with 7 nights available for £16,995 per person in April 2022.


3. Niokolo-Koba National Park, Senegal


Lion Population: c.50


Lion Density: 1 lion per 182.6 sq/km


Overview: Niokolo-Koba is our absolute favourite destination here at Pictus Safaris. Just a short hop from Europe, this national park supports an impressive array of wildlife. Lion, wild dog, elephant, buffalo, giant eland and chimpanzee can all be found here, with a big chunk of luck. Lions in particular are the flagship species of the park, with sightings regularly reported in the main game-viewing area around Simenti and the Niokolodge. The presence of several other species rarely seen anywhere else, including Guinea baboon, green monkey and Gambian mongoose, make this a must-visit destination for anyone interested in conservation in West Africa.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris visit Niokolo-Koba, as well as the Casamance and the Saloum Delta, on our 13-night 'Sensational Senegal' small-group safari in December 2022, available from just £2,795 per person.




2. Kainji National Park, Nigeria


Lion Population: c.30


Lion Density: 1 lion per 178 sq/km


Overview: Hardly ever visited, Kainji National Park is the last hope for lions in Nigeria. Up to thirty cats are still thought to roam the Borgu sector of the park, with much of the park dominated by wetland associated with the Kainji Lake, after which the park is named. This limits access to large parts of the park, including the Zugurma sector, and it is this lack of access coupled with non-existent tourist infrastructure that makes visiting the area so challenging. For those who can get to the park, there is plenty to see besides lions - with species including red-flanked duiker, Patas monkey and clawless otter all present.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris only currently offer private departures to Nigeria - contact us at contact@pictus-safaris.com to learn more.


1. Bouba-Ndjida National Park, Cameroon


Lion Population: c.60


Lion Density: 1 lion per 36.7 sq/km


Overview: The northern landscape of Cameroon, sometimes referred to as the 'Benoue Complex' offers some of the best wildlife-viewing in the region. If you know where to look, it is possible to spot lion and leopard here, as well as Kordofan giraffe, bush elephant, giant eland and much more. In fact, despite the shy nature of giant eland, sightings here are practically guaranteed. Lion sightings are less reliable, but far more frequent here than in many other parts of the continent, and the survival of several prides here is remarkable given the intense pressure this ecosystem finds itself under. Whilst Pendjari, Zakouma and Niokolo-Koba are now open secrets, Bouba-Ndjida is still hardly known at all except by true pan-African specialists.


How to Get There: Pictus Safaris will shortly be announcing 2022 dates for a small-group safari to Faro NP and Bouba-Ndjida NP - contact us at contact@pictus-safaris.com to secure your place.


Which of these destinations would you love to visit most? Have you been to any of them before? Let us know in the comments!

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