5 month old lion cub survives 5 weeks alone!

by on December 12, 2011

in Wildlife

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

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86 comment on “5 month old lion cub survives 5 weeks alone!”

    Adri Pretorius says:

    O man, this is so sad an glorious at the same time!!!! This Little One will be a fine Leader to his pride one day!!! Well done, and SPEEDY recovery – put some “meat” on that bones!!!!!!

    jax says:

    so true! I hope to see him looking fatter in the weeks to come.

    Jo says:

    What a very moving tale!! Nature is beautiful and ugly all at once and I sincerely hope that this pride can have it a bit easier for a while. If this little male survivies to adulthood he really will be something special!

    Archna Singh says:

    I am speechless! What a courageous story! We all have so much to learn from them. I hope he recovers completely! He’s special! Am sure he will. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.

    Linda says:

    WOW – i am blown away by the story. Best news.

    Leon Marais says:

    Nice write up of the story Adam!

    Susie says:

    What a cracking story Adam! So happy to hear the missing cub has been found alive; just amazing….but even more amazing to see the great progress of the tailless female as this had just happened when we were there and our photos show her raw flesh….send shivers down my spine every time we look at it! Thanks for the updates…Matt and I are now avid readers of your blog to keep the Londolozi dream alive!!!

    Juan Jose Rubio Coque says:

    What a fantastic story. It makes me think that sometimes miracles are possible. A true Christmas gift to all who follow the wildlife in Sabi Sand. Please, keep us informed on the progress of this little big hero. I wish with all my heart that he can recover and survive. Thank you very much

    Adam Bannister says:

    The story is incredible is it not! I tell you what I reckon we do need to come up with a name for the little guy…let’s hear some suggestions from all of you.

    Candice Jones says:

    What about ‘Serapis’? Serapis was an Egyptian god who was in charge of ascension. He’s like a physical fitness guru, he inspires, motivates, and provides hope for the future.

    Sheena says:

    Tears of joy on reading your article, amazing – a survivor……

    Amber Knieriem says:

    What wonderful news! He is a little scrapper. If we get to suggest names, then I say Odysseus, the Greek hero who wandered the earth and had many challenges that got in the way of him returning home to his family, but finally prevailed after a lengthy journey. I know you guys like to use local languages to name the animals though, but I don’t speak a word of those. :(

    Linda says:

    I like ‘Cashile’ the zulu word meaning ‘be hidden’ (which is what this little guy did for five weeks) or the swahili word for live, exist, survivor which is ‘Kuishi’ or maybe we should just call him “Champ” because he is a little champion :-)

    Sal says:

    beautiful, uplifting, magical and moving…..
    extraordinary pride made up of extraordinary lions….

    Geri Potter says:

    I am in tears…of JOY! I am ecstatic that the mother is recovering and the 2 ‘lost’ cubs have been reunited with the pride! Once again, they teach us about hope, love, faith and the importance of family…..THANK YOU for sharing this remarkable, touching story!


    Jody says:

    Marc Weiner used to talk about the amazing recuperative powers of animals and this just proves the point. What a wonderful story. The Tsalalas are loved all over the world, and this adds to their mystery and majesty. Thank you for bringing a bit of joyy to so many of us who have worried about them all.

    Amanda Graefin von der Schulenburg says:

    What an amazing story! It has been four years since my visit at Londolozi, but it seems like only yesterday when I was able to witness the spectacular wildlife there. Richard was my guide then, and it is no surprise he found the little miracle! I’m looking forward to more updates!

    Marion says:

    I thought it would be cool to name him with the Shangaan word for miracle. But Google tells me that that would be “Singita”. LOL. The Zulu word for miracle is isimangaliso.
    Beautiful story, hope he grows up to be a gorgeous, strong beast of a lion.

    Lyn says:

    An amazing story of this young cub. Proof of the will to live and the strength, determination and perseverance of the little one to keep going. As for a name I think it should be Shangaan refelcting the character of this youngster. Not the first time I have heard of this survival instinct. There was a lioness cub of one of the prides which frequent another area of Sabi Sands who was separated from the pride when the Mapogos were wreaking their havoc in that area. She was gone for two weeks and then was re-united with the pride.
    I have resorted to using the internet for ideas so if the spelling or translations are incorrect I apologise.
    bubezi – big lion
    ku va nghala – to be a lion (means to be brave)
    ku lwa xinghala – fight like a lion
    matimba – power, strength – (name of a leopard in SS I think)
    ntamu – strength, power, force
    ponile – survival
    salawaxe – the one who was left alone – (unofficial name of the lioness named Sandy Patch now deceased)
    xaniseki – he who has suffered (the last cub of Salawaxe also deceased)
    Xivindzi – brave one ……. (name of leopardess cub in Sabi Sands)
    yambilu (Mbilu) – heart
    vaviseki – to suffer
    vuthlari -wisdom, intelligence, cleverness
    qondo – knowledge, common sense (zulu)
    Mogale – brave one – was also the name of a king who ruled around 1800 Kgosi Mogale and an urban area

    Adam Bannister says:

    Thanks Lyn for the time you obviously put into the naming of this little treasure. I agree it should be a shangaan word that when translated into english is something very powerful! Im going to ask some of the trackers here for words they think best describe him.

    Kristin says:

    Amazing post – thank you so much for sharing. Ever since we saw the cubs in early October I have enjoyed following their story on the blog. This is incredible news and I look forward to hearing what happens next!

    Liz says:

    Thank you so much Adam and Talley for a remarkable tale of life in the bush. What a marvelous little soul to have survived the odds and for fate to have brought him together with his older cousin and ultimately reunited with this resilient pride. It fills me with joy, and wonder. May he grow from strength to strength and become a Majestic and Proud Lion. Fantastic pride, love them. Is he likely to be an offspring of the Majingilanes? Maybe he should be named ‘Resilence’ or ‘Survivor’ but in Shangaan. Thanks so much for keeping us updated. How about a name for BB2 as well. So hope I get to see them in Feb!!

    Meghann Rosenberg says:

    What a truly amazing story! Brought tears to my eyes, I’m so happy that the male cub was reunited with his family!!

    Great piece, as always great writing Adam

    irene nathanson says:

    Tears of joy as I read your words Adam. I have been looking at my photos of Tsalala pride sharing them with friends and family. So happy I captured photos of the pride and the two young cubs. Melancholy sharing them thinking that one was gone just two days after I photographed these adorable creatures… He should have a name. Thanks for the wonderful to news

    Sandy Johnson says:

    This is such amazing news! My heart was broken when I first read of the attack and presumed death of the cub. I look every day at a picture of one of the cubs which I have as a screensaver on my computer. I like to think it is this one. I like a previous poster’s suggestion to call him Champ. This news has made my day! Good luck Champ and mom.

    Talk about the strong shall survive. This young male should be the new “King of the Jungle” when he grows up. What an amazing story. Good luck little one.

    Iren Juppa says:

    Hi Adam, ……. Simply “SIMBA”. ♥♥ :-))

    Zach Hershman says:

    This is such an amazing story. Thank you for bringing it to those of us who can’t be out there experiencing it ourselves.

    Isibindi: courage – Zulu
    Khalfani: destined to rule – Swahili
    Qawe / Qaweyn: brave – Zulu
    Yahya: God’s gift – Swahili

    Curtis Hine says:

    You an Solly connected us to that pride in so many ways over our three day trip in October. The two little ones playing on the log has remained on my screensaver even with the knowledge one was no longer alive.
    Ryan and I are thrilled with the news. Let’s hope the bounty of summer lets the little guy get strong and healthy now that he’s back with his family.
    Thanks again for giving us the gift of knowing the Tsalala pride!

    Mim Nettles says:

    What a wonderful Christmas story. How great for the family to be together. Thanks so much Adam for the tale and I hope to hear more good news soon.

    Arlene Levin says:

    I loved reading this story about the lost cub and to find out the older cub helped with reuniting him the pride is amazing. I look forward to your updates. Thank you!

    Adam Bannister says:

    To all you readers out there…it is an absolute pleasure writing these pieces. The Tsalala Pride are my greatest passion here at Londolozi. I feel privileged to be able to watch them on a day to day basis and conveying the stories to you is enjoyable for me. Thank you for the name suggestions…keep them coming. Lets see how creative we can be…I am also wanting some thoughts on a possible book of the Tsalala Pride…To do it or not to do it? And it what format…text/pics/combination? What you think?

    Geri Potter says:

    ABSOLUTELY! A History, lineage, complete with battles won and lost! People could learn SO much from what these lions endure…and yet they stick together! The fact the first Tailless female returned just prior to her daughter’s unfortunate run in with the hyena, and subsequently to have her maintain a presence through all THIS drama…?! Supernatural nature!

    When you do, PLEASE make it available to a publisher in the US!!!

    Adam Bannister says:

    Im defiantly doing some thinking about it…just not sure how to approach the topic of the Tsalala Saga as it is a true epic with so many characters, twists and turns.

    Geri Potter says:

    May it be two names? ‘Gondo’ (common sense…he definitely has it) and Isisbindi (courage) or mogala (brave)…so many qualities to have at such a young age. SO many people on his side…lovely, really, to bring so many together. Maybe ‘ONE’?

    Good luck ‘little BIG guy’.

    Merle says:

    Adam, please check with Talley. He already has a name. Ask her if this is Shane? I was with her and Freddie, along with my two BFFs, when we saw the fabulous four at their first sighting by humans. As they came up to hill towards our vehicle, we named the fearless leader of the pack Shayne, after Judy’s grandson. And even Mr. Varty said he would see what he could do to make it so (being PC, of course).

    We are thrilled beyond words to think that he has in fact survived. Our tears of sorrow are now tears of joy!!!!

    Indeed, Happy Holidays to all!

    Em says:

    Such a wonderful story, defies belief. Stuff that is usually only committed in books. I hope he manages to gain weight at the right speed and all being well I am sure he is a future king.

    As for a possible book, YES it must be done, would be a fantastic read, especially if it ends with this little chap’s story of survival against the odds. A combination of pics and text please!! Pre-ordering my copy now!! :)

    Thank you for your fantastic updates. Hope to come visit one day.

    Syl says:

    Adam, I can’t begin to tell you the joy I felt reading this. I like the idea of a shangaan name. Problem is there are so many words that would fit this little one right now. We could give him a name a mile long. LOL
    I love the idea of you doing a book…for sure go with the combo. Your words always create a wonderful story…and your photos are the icing on the cake.
    Best of luck to this little guy & I hope his mom keeps recovering nicely. what a pair this mother & son…survivors.

    Mary Beth Wheeler says:

    What a wonderful Chtistmas story of courage, hope and love! We can only imagine what he went through during those 5 weeks! I hope he can get the nourishment he needs now to get healthy and strong again.

    I suggest “Fearless One” in Shangaan….

    Linda says:

    definately a combination of pictures and text. What a great idea for a book.

    Lyn says:

    DEFINITELY a book!!!! Every time I visit South Africa I search the book stores for new books on African animals – I have many, including three by Anthony Bannister (any relation?) and Peter Johnson.
    I think the story of the Tsalalas, where they came from and what they have been through and survived, with supporting photographs would be great. You live with them and must have a storehouse of anecdotes. This cub’s 5 week survival without the pride is the sort of story to include. These are the items of great interest and which cause people to stop and think and to re-evaluate some of their old beliefs. The Sabi Sands is large enough to support many prides and a nmber of coalitions BUT small enough for the prides to be *studied* and their history to be written and this is important. They can be followed for years whereas in the great expanse of the Mara, for example, I think a lot is lost.
    I encourage you to publish a book.

    Carolyn Roth says:

    Thank you.

    Sheena says:

    Adam – go for it with the book, you have all the material necessary, glorious photos by the Talented Tally Smith and the other Rangers, you write with such sensitivity, film to include a DVD in the book package, and a story of resilience and love in the wild that will appeal internationally to children and adults combined – sounds like a winner to me !!!! And before the book launch get a TV doc made on the pride — now I’m going wild !!!! Easy for us all to make suggestions (guilty!) – a lot of work involved –

    Lynda Martin says:

    I think the little lion cub should be called Sebastian after Saint Sebastian, the Saint for athletes and physical endurance.

    Love the write up but most of all, love that the little ones survived and so to the pride.

    Dean says:

    Well written Adam. A brilliant account of the most unlikely sequence of events.
    Keep the blog stories rolling!
    great work.

    nancy armitage says:

    What a wonderful story. Nature is so amazing and the Tslala pride seem extraordinary in its survival from the original tailless lionness to this little cub. A name I’d like to suggest is the shangaan word for to hope…tshemba. But I think the shagaan people would have the best feel for the most appropriate name for the little guy.

    I think it would be a wonderful idea to write a book about this pride. There certainly would be many a story to tell. The use of words and pictures could help memorialize this wonderful group of lions.

    Nancy Armitage

    Elisabeth Douglas says:

    Adam What an overwhelming story you have let us take part in. I´ve read it over and over again in tears.
    We must hope the little cub and his mom can recover to be strong again. Name : Prince, the son of a Queen, or Mogale.

    Adam Bannister says:

    Thanks Elisabeth. It really is an outstanding story! Yet another amazing tale for the much loved Tsalala Pride. I think that come early 2012 the entire Douglas Family needs to head back to Londolozi for another week with the Tsalala Pride and their precious set of youngsters.

    Rich Laburn says:

    As I am nearly finished with a short 15 minute movie about the Majingilane Coalition, I feel that the next movie would have to be telling the story about this amazing pride and their Epic journey. It would be great to compliment the book with a visual story of their lives to match. Well written post Ad.

    Adam Bannister says:

    Okay lets put a spanner in the works here…playing Devil’s advocate…should we infact give the Lion cub a name at all! I don’t know the answer. I know we have been throwing some names and ideas around but does naming the animal not detract from the ‘wild’ aspect of the individual, or is it just human nature that we want to name and catagorise things…Lets hear it from your side…

    rich says:

    It’s a good question Adam and a tough one to answer. At times I have wanted to give specific animals a name for the purpose of identification and clarity as to lineages, etc. I think that you will always find conflicting opinions as many purists would prefer to view a wild lion as just that, whilst people who are ardent followers of the lives of these animals want to know specifics around the individuals. If you think about it, even though we have identified our leopards by the spot patterns on their face, we are effectively still naming them – i.e.: the Vomba 3:2 Female Leopard. Perhaps we should find a similar balance for the lions…? I too am interested to hear what the thoughts are on this as there have been some wonderful suggestions and responses to this particular post. Rich

    Sheena says:

    Okay, naming is a human thing, he doesn’t need a name, but Adam if you are going to write a book about him, any reader big or small would relate more easily to him through an appropriate name.

    This Blog is exploding ……

    Lyn says:

    It is a good question Adam. For me it will easily identify the lion cub central to a particular story or the lion as it grows up. I know many years ago when JV began following the leopardess whom he filmed and whose story was told in so many videos she was simply named *the mother* just so that she could be *identified* from the other leopardesses in the area. She was not given a name like Jen or Marge but by calling her *the mother* everyone knew who she was. If there is to be a story then perhaps a name is appropriate. This cub (the one who spent five weeks alone at five months old) has a story and the bracketed portion is way too long to keep repeating :) :)

    Heather Fleeger says:

    Absolutely INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!! We are in complete shock. Adam, thank you again for all the time we got to spend with this pride when we were there in September. We feel a strong bond with Londolozi and this lion pride. It has been an emotional journey with these lions, every loss they have and every win they have, you feel like you are living it with them. The plight of this pride is amazing. Their story would make a wonderful book!!! Go for it! If you need any extra photos of them, I am sure everyone would love to submit. Text and pics for sure!!!!!

    Ed says:

    Great stuff! A book would be terrific. Maybe a blog at some point dedicated to readers/guests favorite Tsalala pics.

    Adam Bannister says:

    Nice idea Ed, I’ll look into that with Rich, Talley, David and the rest of the ranger/tracker team.

    Tyrone L says:

    Adam thank you so much for the last couple days – incredible drives!

    It’s terrific to see that this young man is already almost the size of his sister who was not separated from the pride. Hopefully we will be around when he turns into ‘one bad ass male lion’ – your words!

    I think the stories of the Tsalala pride deserve a book. As for names, cliché as it may be, I do like Courage. Google tells me that the Swahili word for tenacity/solitude is Mshikamano which I quite like the sound of.

    Al says:

    Some pretty intense pics were posted on FB, on the Majingilane page, shows the near battle between the Majings and the Matimbas in August of this year. The second pic shows three very determined, alert Majings scanning for rivals. Very cool.

    Between so many coalitions traversing Londolozi, things are going to get really hot soon. Amazing to see and read about Majings, Matimbas, Southern Males, our beloved Mapogos, and various other pairs of lions that make the news.

    Keep it up Londolozi. Expect to see a great, more depth of knowledge and information in the New Year’s.

    Charles Sudlow says:

    What an incredible saga. Thank you.

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