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…?
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.
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.
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.
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