This post focuses on the predators of the Serengeti... those carnivorous creatures that strike terror and respect into prey species and lesser predators alike (humans very much included).
I start with the kings and queens of the Serengeti... lions.
We saw a lot of lions in the Serengeti... some of the prides, like this one, were large, consisting of more than a dozen individuals.
Lions are nocturnal creatures, so most of the ones we spotted weren't very active.
It was scenes like this one that really helped me appreciate how effectively lions can blend into the terrain. There were several times when our driver would point out lions that I never would have spotted on my own. Good thing I wasn't on my own wandering around out there.
This is another example... a full blown adult male tucked away in that dead wood. As usual, our driver spotted him first.
We saw some cubs, plenty of adolescents, lions playing, and even several lions mating.
Male lions can be huge... the biggest can weigh in at more than 250 kg (500 lbs)!
Lions' diets include most of the animals out there on the Serengeti. Their most common prey are wildebeest and zebras, but they'll also hunt and kill bigger animals - like eland, buffalo, giraffes, and even hippos - and smaller animals - like warthogs and gazelle. Lions also hunt and kill other predators, and they have an especially fierce rivalry with hyenas. The male pictured here is munching away on the ragged remains of a wildebeest.
Signs of predation and death are all over the Serengeti. This wildebeest likely died of starvation or dehydration/exposure in the arid and scorched wasteland outside of the park... but it still ended up as a feast for scavengers.
The Serengeti boasts several species of birds of prey too, like the eagles pictured here.
I think this is a martial eagle with those distinct white spotted legs.
Not all the predators are huge either. This little jackal was just the size of a small dog.
These hyenas however, were a lot larger.
Hyenas are communal creatures; they live and hunt in packs.
Despite many similarities, hyenas are not canines. They are their own family in the animal kingdom.
Spotted hyenas on the Serengeti are an apex predator. They are potentially more effective and frequent hunters than lions, as lions often move in and take kills made by hyenas. Hyenas often do the same to lions too though if they can gather the numbers needed to scare lions off of their own kill.
Hyenas can weigh in at up to 65 kg (150 lbs), and the females are the larger of the two sexes. Hyenas have a distinct shape, with their sloped back, long fore legs and short hind legs, short thick necks and large heads. Their teeth are also large and they have powerful jaws, both of which allow hyenas to crack and eat the bones of their prey.
These cubs were pretty cute.
I was surprised several times by how close prey species would get to lone or small groups of hyenas. It seemed like the prey knew that the hyenas were interested in hunting then. We didn't observe that behavior at all with lions.
Next up is the world's fastest land animal: cheetahs.
We didn't see too many of these slender and elegant cats, but we lucked out with the few we did see.
We didn't get to see any cheetahs hunting, but when they do, they can very quickly reach speeds of up to 110 km/h (70 mph).
As with many of the rest of the animals we saw, there were also some cheetah cubs around.
Cheetah mothers watch over their cubs very closely; lions, hyenas, and leopards would all gladly kill and eat the baby cats if they had the chance.
And another spotted feline, but don't mistake this bringer of death with a cheetah. Leopards are highly efficient predators, and they are fully capable of killing a person.
To keep their kills away from lions, hyenas, and scavengers, leopards haul their prey up into trees. You can see the blood streak along the trunk of this tree where this leopard hauled up that baby wildebeest.
Leopards are also one of the "Big 5" species.
You can imagine the strength those cats possess... the next few shots might help build some appreciation for that too.
That's right, that leopard just hauled that dead animal, which is nearly the same size it is, even further up that tree.
Leopards are solitary creatures. Unlike lions and hyenas, they do their hunting alone, and rely on stealth and surprise when they go hunting at night.
During the day, this is the most common place to spot leopards: in the trees.
However, we got super lucky with this big male. He was down and roaming through the grass in broad daylight.
Seeing this guy up close really, really made me appreciate how strong these animals are. He was pure muscle under that beautiful spotted fur. And look at the thickness on that neck...
Next up, the eerily silent and cold-blooded terror: crocodiles
We saw several crocs in the larger pools around the Serengeti, but this one was the star of the group. It was huge and feeding on a dead hippo.
African crocs can grow up to 6 meters (20 feet) long and weigh over 550 kg (1200 lbs). We were far from it, so I really don't know how big this one was. The dead hippo gives some sense of scale though. There were also several other smaller crocs sharing the meal.
Watching the crocs eat was pretty gory and macabre.
Back on dry land... something you never want to see approaching you through the grass if you are without vehicle or shelter in those deadly grasslands... a stalking lioness
Just as we started, so shall we end, with lions.
We saw several breeding pairs. This male actually had a small harem of females around.
The females seemed to initiate the mating... they would get up and do a provocative set of motions right in front of the male.
When he climaxed, the male let out an enormous roar. I bet those zebras in the background and anything else within earshot felt at least a touch of terror with that sound.
This family seemed very loving and at peace...
We got very lucky with this one too...
This enormous male was relaxing by the edge of a pond.
Oh yea, that's right... and there were two of them laying there!
These animals command so much respect. They are simply huge and so powerful looking.
There we have it. A picture-heavy post about predators of the Serengeti.