The Birds and the Bees and the Lions Too

[Alert: Graphic images and explicit language].

Good. I can see I have your full attention.

So how many safaris have we been on with our kids here in Africa? Three? Four? Now we go on the first one WITHOUT kids, and what should we get to see the very first afternoon at Banoka Bush Camp?

Mating lions. In fact, it’s the first time we’ve seen anything mate in the wild. If you don’t count the odd dragon flies over our pool.

mating lions in Botswana

How cool would that have been for the kids, I ask you? And, more importantly, for us? We could have had the entire birds and bees conversation right there, in the 12-15 minute spans it took between bursts of thrusting and roaring. With all four kids at once! Sure, it would have been a bit of a stretch to explain periods and sanitary pads and tampons and masturbation all at the same time, but trust me, I would have pulled it off. All I need is a good hook to begin the conversation. The boys would have rolled their eyes and moaned “Mom, why are you telling us all these things?” but I wouldn’t have cared because they would have been a captive audience with nowhere to go, what with a huge lion guarding the truck.

Oh, what an opportunity lost.

Instead, we just watched, mesmerized. Lions are very efficient maters. First they sleep the sleep of the dead and you think this will be a boring wait. We’ve seen sleeping lions before, and nothing happens, ever. But then all of a sudden she raises her head, yawns, and then you have to scramble to get your camera ready or you’ll have missed it. He gets up, they walk past each other touching perhaps once, then he mounts her, does his business in two or three quick bursts, gets off again and starts roaring his pleasure to the rest of the world, while she starts rolling around and raising her legs in the air. Then they both plop themselves down and fall into a deep sleep once again. If you were busy fiddling with the ISO setting and getting the cap off your lens, you’ll have missed it all.

But that’s no problem, because less than fifteen minutes later the whole thing will start all over again.

mating lions in Botswana

Our guide, Willie, would have been a great ally in the sex education talk. He wasn’t the least bit embarrassed describing the whole thing in the most minute detail. The lion’s penis, he said, has spines on it – and yes, we did crane our necks this way and that way to catch a glimpse but couldn’t see a thing, he was so quick – and those rub the female’s vagina, making the whole thing pretty painful for her, especially after 48 hours of this, which is one explanation for all the roaring and growling going on. Or maybe she is just extremely pleased about nature’s equivalent of a bumpy condom.

The guys, I could tell, were a bit jealous. I mean, here was a female who’d get up every fifteen minutes, tell you she’s ready, let you have sex with her without any foreplay, and wasn’t offended when you fell asleep right afterwards, instead patiently sticking around for the next go another fifteen minutes later, my estimate of how long it took for the male to recharge. And after about two days of this, she’d want nothing more to do with you, instead doing her own hunting, inviting you to snack off of it every once in a while. But maybe that was her own reward – being left alone with only female company for a good long time?

Willie, especially, couldn’t tear himself off, even though he probably gets to see this kind of thing much more often than we do. Whereas Noisette and I, after perhaps the fifth round of it, gently suggested we leave and watch the sunset. We felt a bit voyeuristic sitting there, not three meters away, staring and filming and snapping away. I suppose it’s especially fascinating because we don’t often get to watch our own species doing this. When we do watch, it’s called porn.

mating lions in Botswana

I actually think Willie has a bit of a one-track mind zooming in on private parts, now that I think about it. Driving in from the airstrip we came across some elephants, and the very first thing that caught his attention was the penis of one of them. Granted, it’s hard not to look. These things are huge, almost dragging the ground. Later he was trying to describe just how ferocious a honey badger can be, given his rather small size, and he illustrated this with a tale of a honey badger who was seen grabbing a Wildebeest’s genitals and pulling down with all his might. Ouch. Oh, and the honey badger also featured in the story of the honey guide, a bird hopping from tree to tree to get the badger’s attention so he will follow him all the way to the beehive, where the badger uses some foul scent from his anus to paralyze the bees so that the both of them – badger and honeyguide – can feast on the honey and comb.

We have a whole more day to go. I’m keeping my ears pricked for more stories about private parts and reproductive rites of the animal world. And I’ll keep my camera charged to collect plenty of footage. Because when we get home, we’ll lock all our kids in a room and show them the movie. Including Willie’s narrative.

The above story is an excerpt from my Botswana Diaries, which I promised you I’d write a book about. Which technically I am in the process of doing. If opening the file every two weeks or so and writing a few more sentences can be counted as writing a book. I felt like I owed you at least a little bit of a preview. With the movie thrown in as a bonus. I hope you enjoyed it!

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