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Murchison Falls Safari: Spotting the 3-legged Lion

I’ll admit it. I’m terribly spoilt when it comes to wildlife, safari in particular. I was fortunate enough to witness a kill right in front of my eyes in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Baboons are a common sighting

Baboons are a common sighting

Out of nowhere we watched in awe as a lioness tore through a herd of a hundred or so wildebeest, scattering them in every direction, before taking down her pre-meditated target (a young calf) with frightening accuracy and ferociously ripping it from limb to limb. It was an experience that will stay with me forever and cemented Tanzania in my heart as one of my favourite countries.

After witnessing the astounding beauty of the Serengeti and the live feeding frenzy at the Ngorongoro Crater, Murchison Game Reserve had a lot to live up to. It’s like experiencing Disney Land and then going to your local fun fair. Or winning a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and then popping into your local corner shop for a 10p pick n mix. I blame Tanzania. It was an overindulgence of the senses, a once-in-a-lifetimes experience to which nothing else can compare, apart from perhaps Kruger National Park and of course the Masai Mara, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to top it safari-wise.

"Wait up, Mum!"

“Wait up, Mum!”

I tried to lower my expectations when I booked a trip with Red Chilli to go to Murchison Falls and visit the game reserve. The country’s wildlife has been massacred over the years by poachers and Idi Amin’s soldiers, who would slay animals for bush meat and to sell ivory and skins, so it’s wildlife is still recovering.

I knew it was unlikely that I’d see the big 4 (buffalo, lion, leopard and elephant – the wild rhino became extinct by 1983) and even more unlikely I’d see a kill or any experience to rival the kill in Tanzania. Going on a game drive still excited me, but the novelty of setting eyes on my first wild lion or being hypnotised by the majestic beauty of a heard of elephant was no longer there. I took photos, oohed and ahhed as we ticked off the animals, but I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm that my fellow mzungos had. I just kept thinking, where are the heards of zebra, the ostriches, the hyenas, the rhino, the pack of lions?!


It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the experience, it’s just that it made me cherish my memories of Tanzania even more and although I wasn’t glued to my view finder the whole time, in some ways I spent more time actually watching and admiring the park and it’s inhabitants, rather than furiously snapping away scared that I’d miss something. Just as I had resided to the fact that I wouldn’t see anything new, we stumbled across a male lion lying just metres from the track. And not just any lion, he was a 3-legged lion who had been maimed by a poacher’s trap. It was nature at it’s most pitiful and cruel – the pack had rejected him because he could no longer serve his duty and he now had to fend for himself. By the look of his frail body, sad face and slow, cumbersome limp, he wouldn’t survive for long. Nature is cruel, but man even crueller.

Animal porn isn’t the only attraction at Murchison, the main draw for many is the dramatic falls. But again, when the last falls you visited were Iguzu, Murchison is somewhat underwhelming.

An inquisitive visitor at the Red Chilli Camp

An inquisitive visitor at the Red Chilli Camp

The highlight for me was the river safari, something I’ve never experienced and in many ways, was much more enjoyable than bouncing about in a hot land-rover and inhaling clouds of dust. The river safari offered an unparalleled opportunity to get up close and personal with hippos, crocodiles and birdlife. We saw a crocodile protecting her eggs and baby hippos wallowing next to their Mothers. The tour climaxes with a close-up view of the Falls from the very spot where Hemingway supposedly crashed his plane.

view down the Nile from the Falls

view down the Nile from the Falls

Back at the Lodge, we had stunning panoramic views across the reserve and enjoyed home-cooked food in the simple but rustic lodgings. This is camping I can cope with – bandas furnished with comfy camp beds complete with resident warthogs grunting and scurrying in between the tents.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Murchison Falls and game park, if only to get a heart-breaking glimpse of the 3-legged lion:

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