By Dain Lewis

As we set out on our first game drive of The Great Kenya Migration Safari, we didn’t expect that we would witness the full circle of life within the first hour of the trip.

We were driving through the Mara Naboisho Conservancy, passing small herds of migrating wildebeest, Thomson’s gazelles, elephants and giraffes when we stumbled upon an amazing scene. Two lionesses were guarding a dead giraffe, a leopard was watching menacingly from the tree above, and two newborn leopard cubs were hiding in a den.

Circle of Life on Kenya Safari

We could see the leopard strategically planning her next move, waiting for the lions to lose interest before she would make a dash for the den. After feeding on the giraffe, the lionesses took a rest in the tall grass to let their meal digest.

Meanwhile, the leopard slowly crept down from the tree and paused for a moment behind the bushes before sneaking into the den to rescue her cubs. Sensing that the leopard had come down from her perch, the lions curiously sauntered over to the den entrance to see how they could get in.

Lionesses on a Kenya Safari

Out of nowhere, the leopard leaped out from the back of the den and darted through the bushes and back up the tree to safety, closely pursued by the two lions all the way to the base of the tree. A close call, but the cubs remained in the den and the leopard was able to return to the safety of the trees to wait it out.

It was an amazing sight to watch—a day in the life of Africa’s big cats and the full circle of life during the Great Migration. A mother leopard protecting her newborn cubs, the lions closely guarding their next meal, and a giraffe whose time had come to an end. It was a high-stakes game of cat and mouse, each animal carefully watching the other and reacting to one another’s moves.

Mother Leopard on a Kenya Safari

We were also able to see the incredible maternal instinct embedded in the leopard’s genes through millions of years of evolution. The female leopard was grossly over-matched by the two lionesses, yet was willing to risk her life to rescue her cubs and transport them to a safer location. Watching the leopard carefully, it was clear she only had one thing on her mind—not her own safety, but the well-being of her cubs. We returned the following day to witness a flock of vultures feeding on the remains of the giraffe carcass and learned from our expert wildlife guides that the leopard had successfully rescued her cubs. A nice end to an amazing first day on our Great Migration safari in Kenya.

Vultures on a Kenya Safari

All photos and video © Dain Lewis.