Backstory: I spent three nights in the Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta region in Northern Botswana with Dereck and Beverley Joubert. The two have been making films about lions for 30 years, and their newest one, Game of Lions, premieres on Nat Geo Wild on Dec. 1. It was my first trip to Africa and it basically changed my life.
Here’s everything I learned:
1. There is no feeling quite like the feeling you get when you see an elephant from a plane.
To look down and see elephants for the first time is a feeling I’ll never forget. It’s like: WHAT?!?!?
2. Also the view of the Okavango Delta from above is INCREDIBLE.
3. Botswana, specifically the Duba Plains, has the largest lions in the world.
They are 15% bigger than any of the other lions in the world.
4. Today there are more statues of lions in the world than actual real-life lions.
5. The world population of lions has decreased by 90% in the past 75 years.
And they’re still not on the “red list.” Beverley and Dereck believe they aren’t because lobby groups like the NRA and Safari Club International keep them off of it.
6. A sausage tree is the coolest tree.
IT’S LIKE SAUSAGES ARE HANGING FROM IT.
7. There is nothing quite as terrifying as hearing a hippopotamus literally right outside of your tent in the middle of the night.
Hippos eat at night. They came into our camp at night and you could hear them chomping RIGHT outside from where we were sleeping. Hippos aren’t the nicest animals, it was dark, and they are very loud.
8. There is elephant poop EVERYWHERE.
Where there are elephants, there is a shitload (lol) of elephant poop. Honestly, it was surprising just how much poop there was. And for those wondering (sry), it didn’t really smell. It was honestly “straw-like” because elephants just eat plants.
9. It takes two to three weeks for a buffalo to turn into a skeleton.
A lion got this guy a couple weeks before. It’s crazy how in two weeks the buffalo can turn completely into a skeleton. The more you know.
10. The sunrises in Botswana are very Lion King-esque.
11. The sunsets are too.
12. One-third of the world’s elephant population lives in Botswana.
13. There are people who make their living completely on Instagram.
The trip I went on was a Nat Geo press trip. There were three other press people and me. One of them was an iPhone artist. She’s a mom from Mississippi who makes her living, believe it or not, completely on Instagram! Check her out here.
14. Elephants are basically stoners.
They eat all day and their eyes are halfway closed. They are adorable.
15. Elephant babies are excruciatingly cute because they’re always between two adults. It’s ridiculous.
And by ridiculous, I mean I couldn’t even contain myself when I saw them.
16. The highlight of any safari is if you catch a group of animals mating.
17. Lions are INCREDIBLY sneaky.
If you can see, there’s a lion hiding in the bush on the right about 30 feet away from a group of buffalo. The buffalo have no idea the lions are right there.
18. Male lions are lazy. Females do basically everything.
Females do most of the hunting. They take care of the kids. They make shit happen.
19. Lion cubs are everything. They’re also very curious.
They’re the only ones who actually acknowledged us. And by acknowledged, I mean they just stared. Meanwhile, mom just stayed there sleeping.
20. They are also fajlsdfa;sdfl;as;dfakl;sdfasf cute.
fajlsdfa;sdfl;as;dfakl;sdfasf is the only fitting adjective, I think.
21. Sleeping lions are hilarious.
This little cub tried to wake his dad up but dad wasn’t having it. He growled and the cub ran away. Don’t mess with dad.
22. Lions sleep alllllll of the time because they have small hearts.
They are big animals and run out of stamina fast. That’s why they’re sleeping for a big portion of the day.
23. Lions are obsessed with shade.
They get overheated easily and stay in the shade for most of the day. Blame their small hearts.
24. China is the biggest threat to lions today.
There are a bunch of ancient beliefs that people still believe to be true in China. One is that eating a lion kills cancer. Another is drinking lion bone wine helps your libido. It’s all bogus.
25. Baboons are very, very scary.
They actually have larger fangs than lions. They are terrifying and fast and kind of human-like. They would jump on my tent at night and I would die.
26. Buffalo are actually the most volatile animals. If they’re sitting down, you don’t mess with them.
Buffalo sit down as long as they can until they need water. They’re safer that way. As long as they’re in a group sitting down, no one will mess with them.
27. The Jouberts, whom I wrote about earlier, have witnessed only one natural lion death in their 30 years of studying lions.
They were following a solo lion when he just collapsed on the ground. They waited around for a little bit before investigating.
The biggest killer of lions are actually other lions. Not man.
28. The Duba lions are the only lions in the world to swim/go into water period.
Most lions won’t even touch puddles, but the lions in Duba learn how to swim when they’re about 10 days old. We actually saw a lion in the water feeding on a buffalo it had just killed. It was…nuts.
29. Kenya is the Disney World of safari tourism.
Kenya has a mass tourism model set up compared with Botswana’s more “exclusive” one. It’s much cheaper, but the experience you get is cheaper too. Dereck Joubert said, “Disney might even have a better experience than that. At least you know what you’re expecting.”
30. Lions get massive food comas.
Like, once a week is Thanksgiving for them. They only eat that often, but when they eat, THEY EAT. After they basically sleep forever.
31. Lions have the same tongues as regular house cats.
You know, they’re like Velcro.
32. European documentary: 52 minutes. USA documentary: 44 minutes. Chinese documentary: 20 minutes.
Europeans have the highest attention span, Americans are in the middle, and the Chinese have the lowest, according to the Jouberts. They have made many films for different cultures and have to tailor each documentary toward the specific culture. They’re currently trying to create a film for China and have to make it short and super punchy. Something to break through the noise.
33. There are already 26 countries where lions are extinct.
34. The most despicable form of hunting is “canned lion hunting.”
It’s when you put a lion in a cage and you shoot it. This actually happens. They raise lions to kill them.
35. Botswana is the most environmentally progressive country currently in Africa.
It just enacted a 100% no-hunting policy in September. That makes this country and Kenya the only countries that are completely safari-hunt free.
36. Watching a lion hunt is a very long, stressful, but extremely engaging experience.
It’s very slow and very much a game. It’s a lot of sneaking up and hoping the animal doesn’t notice the lion. It’s super intense.
37. Blame The Lion King.
There’s something Dereck called the “Disney-esque” view of lions that many people have that is very wrong. For one, lions are pretty incestual. They have sex with their siblings/parents. Yup.
38. Female warthogs have blonde mohawks.
39. Monitor lizards are my new secret favorite animal.
These giant lizards were in the water. Monitor lizards >>> crocodiles. New fav aquatic animal.
40. This is what happens when a monkey hears a camera shutter.
I was sitting in my room and a monkey came in and looked into my window. Every time I took a picture the monkey would move into another position trying to look into the tent. It was pretty funny. Monkeys…amiright?!?!
41. Elephant graveyards don’t really exist.
Elephants have an extreme respect for their dead, though. When an elephant dies, the other elephants will go up to the body or the skeleton and kind of play with it.
42. Buffalo smell exactly like a farm.
You might as well be in a barn.