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The world's Top 5 big cat destinations

Wanderlust logoWanderlust 18/03/2017 Wanderlust
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1: Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

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Dereck: Duba Plains in the Okavango, Botswana is, in our opinion, the lion capital of the world. I don’t think there’s been a day in the last 10 years where we haven’t gone out and found lions immediately. Lions usually hunt at night, but here they hunt during the day, so we’re able to film it easily. 

Beverly: We’ve seen lions hunt buffalo walking through swampland and crossing rivers. The lions have adapted to hunt in the water. They jump ahead of the crossing and wait for the buffalo, which are slowed by the water. 

In another area, we’ve witnessed lions taking down elephants, because of the drought and semi-desert area. The lions have adapted to take down these huge prey.

2: Tadoba, India

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Dereck: We’ve just been to India in Tadoba Game Reserve. We had exceptional tiger viewing there. We followed a tigress called Mia and a young male cub who was about 14 to 15 months old.

There was a sense of wildness because we were driving over leopard tracks. The landscape was very different to Africa. In India, you get these big soul forests, quite wooded, which means that if you get a tiger, you stick with it because in a second it’s gone.

I was rather impressed by the prey numbers and prey density because I think that big cat viewing is as much about being in the presence of big cats as it is about being there and seeing them. We were able to track a tiger’s progress over the hill and through the forest just by the sound of the deer as it was going. That created visual images in my head about how the tiger was moving and where it was going.

3: Mara Plains, Kenya

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Beverly: Mara Plains, bordering the Maasai Mara, is excellent for spotting cheetahs. It’s the right habitat for them with the open rolling hills and savannah. It has these very small trees that the cheetahs jump upon to use as a vantage point. 

Dereck: The other reason that Mara Plains area is so good is because of the conservancy next to the national park. Maasai Mara game reserve can get quite crowded with a lot of vehicles around the cheetahs. 

More and more, we’re finding the cheetahs moving away from the people and into these crowded conservancies. There’s not a day that goes by without us being able to film and work with cheetahs out there.

4: Siberia

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Dereck: We spent some time tracking Siberian tigers in Russia. It was incredibly difficult. You’ve got to weigh up the risk and reward thing about what your chances are of actually seeing a Siberian tiger. 

We were in an area north of Vladivostok filming a tiger project working in very difficult conditions. We went in March and it was incredibly cold and snowy, but we did see a couple of tigers, and it was very rewarding for that.

The sight of these amber and black-striped creatures, set against a backdrop of white mountains and trees, was highly evocative.

The tigers were feeding on all sorts of things, including the endemic deer and wild boar. We were trying to film them feeding on whales washed up on the beach. Before we arrived, a bear and a tiger fought over a whale, which would have been magnificent to see.

Beverly: We have the same situation happening in Namibia along the Skeleton Coast where, every now and then, whales, seals and dolphins are washed up. These big black-maned lions come down onto the beaches to feed on the carcasses.

5: Selinda Reserve, Botswana

Lion in the Maasai Mara (Dreamstime) © Lion in the Maasai Mara (Dreamstime) Lion in the Maasai Mara (Dreamstime)

Beverly: It’s a little north of the Okavango Delta, but it’s particularly great for leopards. Sometimes we can see seven or eight in a day. We’ve been able to document leopards over the last 14 years in that area. 

What we really like is a time of the year around September when a tree that's called Kigelia Africana, or the common name sausage tree, comes into bloom with these beautiful burgundy flowers. It attracts everything to come and feed on them, from baboons to monkeys, but also, when the flowers drop, it brings in impala and kudu and other antelope.

Leopards have learned, through the period of September and October, to actually lie and wait up in the trees. It is so unique to be able to see a leopard just waiting there. As the impala come in, they leap out of that tree, which is part of a hunt that you would never normally see anywhere else but in this area.

Dereck and Beverly’s latest documentary Soul Of The Cat, drawing parallels between the domesticated cat and their bigger, wilder cousins, airs on Tuesday March 08 at 8pm as part of Big Cat Week on Nat Geo WILD. Dereck and Beverly set up the Big Cat Initiative.

Main image: Lion in the Maasai Mara (Dreamstime) 


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