“Safari Live” Field Notes: Close Encounters With Lions

Djuma Game Reserve, Sabi Sands, South Africa – 1250PM.

The past 5 days have taken a while to sink in; we went live on Nat Geo WILD for Big Cat Week with lions on a buffalo kill and finished the first broadcast with Kunyuma, a magnificent leopard sitting in a tree during our campfire chat. You couldn’t script this in a film and it all happened live with wild animals on the Djuma and Arathusa Game reserves in Sabi Sands, South Africa! Hard to explain why that beautiful leopard decided to just sit in that tree for us, but I assure you, have him walking up behind me and choosing to do that is something I will never forget.

Lions are an incredible force to be around, and sitting in an open-top vehicle in their presence is always humbling–yet calming and peaceful at the same time. We sat with a group of males known as the Birmingham males (I like the Birmingham boys better) several times this week on three different kills. They are superb–and very comfortable with us being there, going about their business as if we are part of the furniture.

I saw four out of five of the boys when I went to kill-site two one afternoon, but the older blonde male was missing. I really wanted everyone to see him because he is so impressive, and I hoped that Pieter could find him later before the end of the drive. After finishing the segment, I turned to-camera to tell the viewers my catch phrase, “You never know what you might find around the next corner.”

Blondie Sure enough, I drove around the next corner 10 seconds later–and would you believe it–there was the Blonde male sitting in the middle of the road not more that 10m/30ft from me! We talked about him for a while and then he stood up, stretched, and walked toward me. He stopped inches away from the front of my vehicle and decided which way to go around me. He could take the safe way for him (longer) or the shorter way (closer to me)… he chose to pass me, not more than 3feet/1m from my door–he was trusting, not scared, and building his confidence with us. Of course we respected his space and were still and calm, but let me go back to the first line of the second paragraph: Lions are also an incredible force to be around and sitting in an open top vehicle in their presence is always humbling [HT smiles].

See you next time! -H

Don’t miss live safaris every day at 9 a.m. ET on Nat Geo WILD! You can also catch bonus safaris online at WILDSafariLive.com!


  1. Patti
    Layton, Ut
    December 4, 2014, 3:49 pm

    It has been enjoyable watching the live safari. Ran across it while channel surfing. You and Pieter have been great host. FYI it was Jim Fowler I think who co hosted w/ Marlin Perkins Wild Animal Kingdom. What a great “job” you have been blessed with. Thanks you both for sharing your passion, your spirit, and your knowledge of these great creatures, I felt like I was there. Looking forward to another safari in a different local.

  2. carrie
    Longmont, Colorado, USA
    December 4, 2014, 4:08 pm

    I’ve loved every second of riding in the Jigga with you on the drives. I’m still amazed at the technology that has afforded this experience to happen. I could listen to you for hours, and think you are a great educator. Thank you so much!

  3. Judy
    December 4, 2014, 6:33 pm

    I am totally in awe of what you are doing. You are so passionate and knowledgable about the animals and Africa. It does my heart good to know there are still people out there trying to save these magnificent animals from extinction. My heard did skip a couple beats when the elephant and lion passed so closely to you. I have always wanted to go to Africa to see the animals, especially the big cats. I am unable to do that so this experience is amazing. I hope you can find a Cheetah. Thanks to you all for the great experience.

  4. marjie lang
    Charleston, SC
    December 4, 2014, 7:37 pm

    Unfortunately I am at work during your live safari, but I am recording and watching them when I get home. Can you try to describe the smells you encounter as well? even textures of, maybe?? Love the stories you guys tell about your past experiences, too. Years ago a lion peed on my dog (he was a collie) at an animal park when I lived in Germany when we walked past his cage… not many people have had that experience. Lions are my favorite, but then again I have many favs, too. Africa- people I know that visited safari always had nothing but great and amazing experiences. KEEP ON “SAFARIN'” 🙂

  5. Paul Goldring
    Ishasha plains Uganda
    December 5, 2014, 2:29 am

    Hayden, we have a hyaena den with 4 pups about 5minutes from camp up on the ridge.Alpha mum came back yesterday evening and a lower ranking female came and appeared to be taking milk from her whilst she was lieing down,Is that normal?Have not observed that before!
    They ‘re terrorising the poor kob every morning so spectacular stuff going on,when you have time !beers cold!!!!

  6. Paul
    December 5, 2014, 10:51 am

    Hour upon hour tedium. If this is the African Safari, I’ll just go to a zoo in the countryside of the USA. Nothing happens here and not a good deal of animal life. A lot of chatter and jeep driving nonsense. NGW documentaries are far superior. Where are the hunts?

  7. Linda Jane Strobl
    New Milford Ct.
    December 5, 2014, 11:29 am

    My grandfather was a great white hunter . We have photos of native huts and tents and hunters with guns. He was a POW in the Boar War . One of your driver’s has two bracelets on his right wrist. Are they made from hair from elephants or his favorite animal the giraffe. I’m enjoying seeing the animals in their natural surroundings. Thank you for this special chance to be on a safari .

  8. Anne Fulliero
    Bluffton, SC, USA
    December 5, 2014, 12:06 pm

    Wonderful series. Thank you.

  9. Julie
    Millstadt IL
    December 5, 2014, 2:23 pm

    Love watching safari live. It is my dream to one day be able to see Africa and go on a big game drive. The big cats are my favorite and hope to be able to see them one day in their natural habitat. Love how passionate Pieter and Hayden are about wild life

  10. Kay Burns
    Akron, Ohio USA
    December 5, 2014, 4:06 pm

    I will never get to go on a safari, the best show on National Geographic Wild EVER!

  11. Robyn P
    Houston, TX, USA
    December 5, 2014, 6:32 pm

    Thank you so much, HT, for sharing your time and knowledge with us. My hubby and I really enjoy this series as this is the closest we can get to a real safari for now. My hope is that at least a few of the kids watching from their classrooms are touched and awed enough to want to help save these incredible animals. My fav is the cheetah but I love all animals. You’re a lucky man, HT! Thanks again

  12. mary plonski
    December 6, 2014, 10:48 am

    someone commented about going to a zoo to see animals because the live safari was too much talking and driving and not enough animals and predators hunting. i feel quite different it is amazing to watch what is happening in real life time at an african park. it is the next best thing to being on a safari myself.

  13. Michelle
    VA. USA
    December 6, 2014, 4:29 pm

    My family have truly enjoyed the “Safari Live.” We have all learned a lot and have loved seeing the different animals. I love that it isn’t scripted like most shows, it shows you animals in their natural habitat in their everyday lives. LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT!!! Please do more shows like this. I really hope to see a cheetah. Do they really eat their first litter?

  14. Barbara Gagliardo
    Atlanta, GA, US
    December 7, 2014, 1:27 am

    This was my first safari and I was fortunate to be taught the wild ways by you and Pieter. My favorite moment was the fireside chat with you calmly talking and the leopard photobombing in the background. Looked like central casting!
    I’m sure the other guides will be good, just not the same. Many thanks for making this 80+ year old a lot smarter than she was a month ago. Hope to ride with you again soon.

  15. sally frances
    December 7, 2014, 5:26 am

    Nice screen capture. When I was watching this, I stopped breathing. How could you have been so sure that this wasn’t the one time the lion decided to go for it? And what plan did you guys have for such a situation?

  16. Donna Sudbury
    Prince Edward Island, Canada
    December 7, 2014, 7:17 am

    I cannot express the joy and excitement of watching these live safaris. This has been an amazing journey and I loved being with you in your jigga! I really enjoyed your story telling of your past experiences and sharing your knowledge of the animals ans their environment.! I would never have experienced seeing and feeling these wonderful, magnificent animals and also feel your excitement and joy. I have been watching eagles nest and have watched bears in their dens during hibernation and watching bears in Alaska and etc……but this is a new fantastic experience for me at 74 yrs. of age. It has opened my eyes and Now I have a new respect for African animals and the people who want to conserve and care for them. Thank you! Thank you! I do hope Pieter and Hayden will come back soon. I will miss them but at the same time I know they miss their families so much. I already love getting to know Scott and now Marc is here so I am sure he will be very interesting too. Thank you Nat. Geo. for giving us these fantastic drives Hayden and Pieter! I also want to thank the cameramen and the control room people and of course the Zoomers at Djama and Arathusa! Thank you, thank you, love you all! TC and many blessing. Please stay safe!

  17. Lisa Hudson
    December 7, 2014, 12:11 pm

    Watched everyday. Great idea and hope you bring it back again real soon. Thank you Nat Geo Wild.

  18. David
    December 7, 2014, 1:49 pm

    Great show. All of you did a fantastic job. I’ve long had a love for lions. I live a few minutes away from Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee Fl. I know it’s not the same thing. But I do consider myself lucky, that I can park and observe a pride interact with each other. I do it often. This may sound crazy, but it mellows me out and helps me put my own life into perspective.

  19. Dave Williams
    Bakersfield, Calif.
    December 7, 2014, 1:49 pm

    Fellows, what a wonderful program. My wife and I recently had the privilege of staying at Kruger park in September and when I watched your series it brought back wonderful memories. We saw 5 different Leopards, many Lions, 100’s of elephants and so many antelope species, Rhinos, giraffes, Hyenas, Wild dogs, Jackals. We have videos of a Lion kill and cheetahs on kills. No place like it. Most exciting vacation we have ever taken and you folks brought us right back to the moment. Thank you

  20. Chandeep
    New York
    December 12, 2014, 5:36 am

    I can’t find the show anywhere on cable. Is it over?? Said it will run till end of January. Please someone reply if you know how to watch it. Thanks.