We thought we had missed the sighting of a lifetime. 4 wet cubs from the Tsalala Pride lay next to a finished impala carcass, bellies full and eyes closed. They had come south and somehow crossed through the Sand River to eat with the two Tsalala lionesses. It was hard to imagine these young cubs tentatively standing on the banks of the Sand River, dabbing their paws in the flowing water before rushing through to the other side. Yet the cubs had done it, courageous in the face of a challenge and growing up as only lions do. The only disappointment was that we had missed it – or had we…?

Tsalala Lioness with four cubs approaching the Sand River after eating an impala - Rich Laburn

Tsalala Lioness with four cubs approaching the Sand River after eating an impala - Rich Laburn

By midday the murky clouds provided cool enough weather for the pride to get active again. They had fed and now needed to drink. Yawning, stretching, licking and then rising the two lionesses and four cubs headed north towards the Sand River. There were four younger cubs denned further north of the river and the pride needed to get back to them.  It took them a long time to reach Finfoot crossing as they stopped to drink and tentatively watched the steadily flowing current move past them.  Straining ears to listen for potential threats and watching murky shadows to avoid one of the lionesses took the first steps into the water.

Tsalala Liones walking through the Sand River - Rich Laburn

Tsalala Liones walking through the Sand River - Rich Laburn

The other lioness was not far behind and as both females stood on the other banks, they called softly for the cubs to follow and then continued northwards.  As if setting the four youngsters a task, they left them on the southern banks of the river to complete it for themselves.  With a typical feline distaste for water, the cub pawed at the puddles not wanting to go in.  Eventually one of the cubs strode into the river with the remaining three sticking very close behind.

Tsalala cubs drinking just before the river crossing - Rich Laburn

Tsalala cubs drinking just before the river crossing - Rich Laburn

Tsalala Cubs crossing Sand River - Rich Laburn

Tsalala Cubs crossing Sand River - Rich Laburn

The tipping point had been reached and it there was no stopping the cubs as they bundled each other forward into the Sand river, leaping and swimming towards the northern bank. In a flash they were through, wet shaggy coats shaken off on the other side and not daring to look behind them the cubs swiftly caught up with their mother who grunted in approval at their sight.

Tsalala Pride Cub Swimming through Sand River - Rich Laburn

Tsalala Pride Cub Swimming through Sand River - Rich Laburn

The river crossing marks a new chapter in the lives of these amazing cubs. They are demonstrating the ability to move independently and to negotiate treacherous terrain. The Sand River is a formidable barrier. Filled with crocodiles and hippos as well as a strong current, this natural obstacle provides an interesting dynamic in how lions movements and territories play out at Londolozi. Having successfully crossed the river will serve to give these cubs renewed confidence and see them exploring areas south of their mother’s current territory.

Written and Photographed by: Rich Laburn
Filmed by: Rex Miller

Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

Rich Laburn

Head of Digital

Rich is the driving force behind Londolozi’s online storytelling and the Londolozi blog. His passions of digital media, film and photography, combined with his field-guiding background, have seen him take the Londolozi blog to new heights since he began it in 2009. Rich ...

More stories by Rich


on Tsalala Cubs Brave Sand River
    Penny Parker says:

    So amazing to see them mature this way. Such awesome footage too – What a *perfect* start to my week. Have a lovely day in the bush, love from Cape Town.

    Sheena says:

    Rich, in the two litters, do you know the gender of all the Tsalala cubs?
    Wonderful footage, they are so beautiful……
    May I echo Penny’s wishes, with love from the South of France!

    Meghann Rosenberg says:

    This was so amazing to watch. The cubs are just so gorgeous! Have the younger Tsalala cubs ventured out much?

    Rich Laburn says:

    For the most part the younger cubs spend much of their time at the den site around Marthly Pools. That said, their mother has started bringing them to feed on kills so they are getting exposed to more and more of the bush. Take a look at this post if you haven’t already – http://blog.londolozi.com/2011/08/the-tsalala-ten/ . In the next month they will continue to move around more and more and hopefully in about 3-4 months time they will be big enough to cross the Sand River like the older cubs above. Thanks for your comments. Rich

    Geri Potter says:

    Ditto from Massachusetts, U.S. Can’t believe how much they’ve grown in 5 weeks! Still an awesome sight. Wishng you all well and continued happy sightings!

    Rich Laburn says:

    Thank you for your kind words Geri, hope all is well in Massachusetts.

    Adam Bannister says:

    Hi sheena, in total the Tsalala Pride now has 8 cubs. The 4 older ones which can be seen in this river crossing and the 4 much younger ones. I am not sure of the gender of the newest litter as I have not been able to get a good enough view; however with the 4 cubs seen crossing the river one is a male and 3 are little girls!

    Sheena says:

    Thanks Adam …..

    Sue Edmunds says:

    Thanks for fabulous video and the photos of the cubs whose eyes tell of their trepidation. But having successfully negotiated the river they will have “renewed confidence” as you say.

    Rich Laburn says:

    Indeed, we are all waiting to see if it happens again in a few months with the younger set of cubs…. Thanks for your comments.

    Ed, Karin, Kayla and Julia says:

    Rich and Adam,

    Thanks for giving the girls an opportunity to be part of this extraordinary experience. They will treasure the memories forever.

    Rich – thanks for the video and pics

    Best regards,
    Ed, Karin, Kayla and Julia

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