This is a story so unbelievable that only Nature could have the creativity and courage to let it play out.  This is a story that shows the fighting spirit, resilience and the complexity of Africa’s most revered mammal…the Lion.

The star of the show is a member of the Tsalala Pride. This time, however, the lead is played not by one of the three tough pride lionesses but rather by a male lion cub born on the 29th May 2011. Having survived a buffalo stampede which claimed the lives of his two brothers; he together with his sister managed to keep afloat in turbulent times. A tipping point would soon follow which would really test the pride…

The recent post entitled ‘Hyena bites Lioness’s Tail off‘ details how the Tsalala Pride were ambushed and attacked by a clan of hyena whilst in the middle of enjoying a zebra carcass…

“One of the smaller cubs was missing and the mother had been brutally wounded. It looked painful as her back left leg was very obviously bitten and still oozing blood. The big damage however came in the form of her backside…her tail had been bitten and ripped off and it looked terrible. She lay motionless in the shade…the pride was in tatters.

The recovery process of the injured lioness has been slow but with each day you can see her gaining in strength and power…she has had the continual support of the pride, which has made this healing process all the more bearable. The cub that disappeared that night was written off by everyone. At first there were one or two comments about maybe it having gotten separated and lost in all the commotion but when after 5,6,7…10 days there had still been no sign of the cub, it was assumed dead. So certain were we that we even wrote a piece on the current composition of the Tsalala Pride leaving the ‘missing cub‘ out completely. At that stage the Tsalala Pride numbered eight (Original Tailless, New Tailless, Lioness, 4 older cubs and the sole surviving youngest cub).

In the late afternoon of the 12th November Richard Ferrier was driving around Weaver’s Nest Road when he saw the impossible. Drinking out of the muddy waters of the pan was the ‘missing cub‘. He had been alone for ten days and was still alive! Richard followed the cub at a distance and was led back to the zebra kill site and the spot where we think the incident and mauling of his mother had happened on the 2nd November.

The ‘missing cub‘ had come back from the dead and silenced all of us. There was a strange euphoria amongst the team, in that we were witnessing first hand an epic battle for survival. We had no clue how at 5 months, this young cub was able to feed and look after himself in one of the most predator rich environments around.

When the one month mark hit on the 2nd December and he was still alone we all began questioning what exactly was happening. Had he made a conscience decision to ‘go it alone’ , did his mother in her current state not want to take on another burden or had they simply just been missing each other each night as the pride moved around their hunting grounds and he wandered through the long grass scuttling after mice and lizards in silence?

Then came another curve ball…an incident one evening in the north resulted in  one of the four older cubs being separated from the Tsalala Pride. For the next couple of days we watched in disbelief as it looked like the pride now numbered seven. But after the ‘missing cub‘ had come back to life we were certainly not going to write off the 10 month old. It was this 10 month old individual who, in fact, may just have saved the day. In an attempt to reconnect with the pride he patrolled Londolozi searching for them. In his wanderings he stumbled upon the ‘missing cub‘. He had managed to find the needle in the haystack. Now it was just a matter of finding the rest of the family. He managed this in a day…

Although no one witnessed the actual reunion one can only imagine the emotions when the cub realised it’s days of going solo were over, the emotion the injured lioness must have felt when she saw, smelt and licked her young cub.

The truth is truly stranger than fiction could ever be. This young cub survived out in the wild for 5 weeks and is now back with the pride. We hope that all the drama is over but we still watch with interest to see if his weak physical condition improves. If he does manage to pull through and survive one thing is for certain…this young male is going to make for one special lion. I look forward to writing about his life as he moves forward as yet another integral thread in the ‘Tsalala Pride’s Epic Story’.

I hope this little highlights package gives you a hint of the emotional rollercaster we have gone through in the last 5 weeks. Let me know your thoughts on this remarkable story…

The two younger cubs delighted to be back together again - Talley Smith

This picture of the missing cub shows how his physical condition has deteriorated - Talley Smith

The injured ' New Tailless Female' mother and her cubs ( the one at the front is the little girl and the one at the back is the boy who has been alone for nearly five weeks ) Note the healing stump at the base of the lionesses' tail. - Talley Smith

The younger and older Tsalala Cubs walk in single file - Talley Smith

Written by Adam Bannister
Photographs by Talley Smith

Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

Adam Bannister


Ranger at Londolozi Game Reserve

More stories by Adam


on 5 month old lion cub survives 5 weeks alone!
    Mariselle says:

    Just call the guy “Survivor” that say´s it ALL: Great story, and indeed amazing the little guy made it…please keep us posted it would be great to follo this great young lions life…and that of his “Off-tailed” MOM.

    Nina says:

    What a Happy Ending!!!! So emotional to read for an African wildlife lover! Thank you for sharing :)))

    Spikelet72 says:

    Amazing story, it’s left me in tears…of happiness of course…

    Denise says:

    I have tears in my eyes. Thanks for the lovely story Adam. Can’t wait to see you in June.
    (star tribe)

    Adam Bannister says:

    Hello Denise…are you coming back in June for STAR…that would be very exciting!!!

    Thelma says:

    is there any video ???

    Adam Bannister says:

    We do have a couple of bits and pieces… we are seeing what we can do and how we can put it all together. Will keep you posted when the next piece comes out.

    Thelma says:

    Hello adam… this cub died…so sad…you will upload a video?…i´d like to watch it,

    Thelma says:

    Thank you rich…but not that video, I was looking for a video where the cub was witht the pride, or feeding… a regular day or so….. and also ,, is there an update from new taillless lioness?..thanks again 🙂

    Adam Bannister says:

    hi Thelma. I do have a short clip of the cub with the pride but before i got round to piecing it together the cub was killed so was not sure how to post it. I may still do so. As for the New Tailless Female she is looking better every day.

    THELMA says:



    Alazia says:

    Sorry that this takes so long to upload. Gary, did you give up on me? Still have the Ottowa lion feast with the cubs have to cut that one down also.Wish we were in LH when Hlabla Nkunzi and failmy were in camp! Must have been awesome.Cheers! joy

    Mary Bradley says:

    I think his name should come from the Tsonga/Shangaan language..Since that is the area he is from.
    What about a word meaning brave one, survivor or sun rise/rising sun…
    Just a thought, I am sure you will pick a most appropriate name for this young boy.

    I was staying at Londolozi beginning of November and photographed this pride with the two little cubs.
    I was heartbroken when I read your report that one of the cubs was missing and presumed dead. Now, to see that this little lion made it is heartwarming. Although very thin, the little cub is back where he belongs with his brother and mother. Happy endings are so nice.

    I have a picture of both of these cubs with the pride. Great picts. How can I email them to you?


    Lili says:

    Una historia increíble y maravillosa !!!!amo a ese leoncito cachorro !!! el seguramente va a ser un leon valeroso y cuidará de su territorio !!!! muchas gracias por contar esta historia !!!

    thelma says:

    hello Adam, is there any video from this little cub , and also any updates about new tailless lioness?
    Thelma , MEXICO

    Sheila says:

    At least he got a good dose of love from his mother and the rest of his pride before his life was stolen away. R.I.P. little fella.

    Thelma says:

    Sheila…I believe most probably, when he were independent, he would be killed by the same males,

    Penny Parker says:

    what a breath-taking story of his strength and courage to survive alone. it is heart-breaking to hear that he has passed, but his short life was testament to the amazing sense of survival instilled in this little guy from birth.

    Frankske says:

    Is the male cub who wandered alone for 5 weeks still alive today?

    Rich Laburn says:

    Unfortunately not, see this post to read about his unfortunate demise:

    Tim Kim says:

    I was very touched that I read the suvival story, but I feel very sorry for him…

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