There is a reason The Lion King inspired such a special place in the hearts of all those who claim to have one. The wildlife, particularly those majestic lions, all living peacefully, with the exception of a couple psychotic hyenas, in their own natural kingdom is pure magic. The fact that the animals sing and dance doesn’t hurt.
The real thing that you experience on an African safari is even more remarkable than the movie (sans the music, of course). Yes, it’s true. While Disney has ruined our relationships with people, actual animals have animation beat by a mile.
When Nat Geo WILD invited Made Man to go on safari at the Nambiti Big 5 Game Reserve in South Africa—where they filmed Man v. Lion, which kicks off Big Cat Week this Friday at 9/8c—we took the bait. Here’s a little taste of this once-in-a-lifetime adventure to consult when you plan your own. Until then, you can cozy up on the couch, shovel in Thanksgiving leftovers and just pretend you’re there…
We spent a lot of time in these awesome Range Rovers that can handle all sorts of terrain and, for some reason I never quite understood, that the animals don’t really bother to attack. Must be all the smelly humans or something.
All manner of exotic creatures cross the road, but so long as you stay in the Range Rover, you’re safe. It’s a lot like Jurassic Park. In fact, it will be exactly like Jurassic Park if people keep building strip malls and using rhino horns to cure hangovers, because then all these animals will be extinct.
Boone Smith, professional big cat tracker, was on the trip, but I was the one to spot this lioness stalking its zebra prey… And I immediately regretted it when we spent the next two hours just waiting for the lioness to make her move. Note: If you do encounter a lion, you’re not supposed to run. I explained to the guides about Soul Cycle and how I could be pretty fast… and may have been the most exotic thing they encountered on that safari.
You can learn a lot from wildlife. Aside from the virtues of patience, I discovered the dark side of man when everyone not-so-secretly rooted for the lion to maul this baby zebra, pretty much just so we could watch. I also realized then and there that the smallest individual gets eaten first, which must’ve been comforting for everyone else on the trip because that individual was me.
Guides escorted us to and from our rooms when it got dark. It’s kind of similar to when you get a table at a fancy club in New York and an attendant escorts you to the bathroom, except in the bush, you’re being protected from lions instead of horny Europeans. I never really got a great answer to how I would be saved from a wild animal, but I guess the gun would help.
Amarula—A South African cream liqueur—tastes like Bailey’s and is made with the fruit of the marula tree, which elephants also adore. Legend has it, they can eat so much of this fermented fruit that they get a little drunk. This is categorically impossible but very fun to imagine (much like the idea of animals dancing). And yes, the guides offered it as a coffee creamer in the early a.m.
A herd of elephants actually invaded the lodge later that day and started to stalk me. Whether the marula fruit can do anything or not, elephants are a lot like drunk boys: they roam around with their friends leaving a path of destruction and claiming they never forget.
In the wild, you really do have to be careful about what you put in your mouth (that’s what she said). We saw this cute eland, and I was semi-horrified when someone let me know I had eaten it carpaccio-style the night before. Realizing I was a predator, I started to worry a little more about what I was eating and a little less about what would eat me.
Let me tell you why I was so thrilled to see this ostrich. There is no Internet in the bush, so I was wondering the whole time if ostriches only live in Australia. My IQ drops at least 20 points without a smartphone, and I tried to use The Lion King to fill in the gaps… but it had been wrong before. Because I’m from that part of LA where girls really talk like the cast of Vanderpump Rules, I already sound stupid, so I just waited and wondered. And since Apple couldn’t answer, nature called!
Even though I never did see a meerkat dance with a warthog, I separately encountered both, collaged together for your viewing pleasure. Going on safari is like living in a zoo, except better because the animals are actually happy, and you don’t feel like an asshole. You learn a lot (without the Internet!), and there is the constant hum of adventure—because there’s a chance you’ll get eaten. But I survived, and it was great.