LION FEEDING FRENZY, KENYA
In Africa, everyone is a cat person. Giraffe are endearing, elephants are imposing, hippos can bellow like no one's business, but it is the big cats that are really mesmerizing, both for their beauty and for their ability to eviscerate you should the mood take them.
Of all the cats, the lions put on the best show. Leopards and cheetahs are shy, solitary creatures; lions, by contrast, let it all hang out. They seem remarkably unperturbed by spectators, whether they are engaged in marathon mating sessions or just lounging around on a tree branch.
The most spectacular moment for a lion encounter is, of course, feeding time, and since lions spend several days feasting off a kill, plenty of safari-goers get the chance to gatecrash a meal.
It is not a sight for the squeamish; if its good manners you want, stay at home. Safari is life unedited and when animals feed, there is plenty of blood and guts involved – literally. However, it is fascinating to see a wild animal eat. Turns out that lions' tongues are as rough as sandpaper, more than a match for the tender underbellies of their prey.
One of the most impressive things about life on the African plains is how many animals a single kill can sustain. Once the lions have taken their share of the carcass, other animals get a go. None will make a move while the lions surround the carcass, alternately dining and dozing, but a few metres away, a hungry horde eagerly positions itself, its members squabbling among themselves over who gets priority. The burly hyenas are top of the pecking order, followed by the slender jackals and finally the vultures. There will be enough for everyone, even if the poor old vultures have to make do with the least tempting morsels.
NEED TO KNOW
Kenyan safari camps offer twice-daily game drives under the supervision of expert guides. The best wildlife viewing happens between the months of July and October. Leave the littlies at home; safari requires the ability to sit quietly for long periods of time
Mara Ngenche Safari Camp, an intimate tented camp overlooking a hippo pool, offers spectacular wildlife encounters. Room and board rates start from $US807 ($1075).
SPOTTING GORILLAS, UGANDA
Gorillas have always driven humans a bit nutty. How else to explain their roles in Tarzan, and King Kong, and Planet of the Apes – how else to explain the likes of Dian Fossey going almost insane when gorillas emerged from the mist.
And yet, for an animal that has dominated our thoughts for so long, mountain gorillas are now so rare as to be just a human war or serious disease away from permanent annihilation. They are five times rarer than tigers, three times rarer than giant pandas, and you absolutely don't come across them by accident.
Instead, in a very few places, including Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, tourists can go on expensive, organized treks to reach the dwindling world of the mountain gorilla.
The rules and regulations are extensive – a maximum of 24 people a day are permitted to see the apes, with interactions limited to an hour, so as not to over-familiarize the gorillas with people, and to cut down on the chances of tourists doing something stupid.
Although they're completely wild, gorilla trekking in Bwindi comes with a virtual guarantee of success and a little hardship too.
"It seems really very unfair that man should have chosen them to symbolize everything that is aggressive and violent, when that is the one thing that the gorilla is not, and that we are."
NEED TO KNOW
You're not allowed to get closer than seven meters from mountain gorillas, but that doesn't mean they won't get closer to you. When they approach, don't stare into their eyes too long and try not to bare your teeth – even if all you want to do is smile.
You can track gorillas year-round, although the height of the rainy seasons can make the conditions heavy going. The best times are in the drier months from about June to mid-September or December to February.