It’s hard to reconcile the idea of a small and relatively helpless lion cub with the image of that same individual growing up into a fearsome 200 kilogram beast with a flowing mane that can sever the spinal cord of a buffalo with one bite of its enormous canines. The one thought is so far removed from the other, both in time and the space it occupies in our minds, that it’s probably easier to just not make the attempt. View cubs as what they are and adult lions as what they are, and try not to connect the two in a timeline.

The reality, sadly, is that most young cubs that are viewed won’t even get the chance to grow up into full-grown buffalo hunters. Mortality rate of lion cubs in the Kruger National Park and surrounds sits at around 50% in their first year, with the figure rising to about 80% mortality overall. Imagine being born into a world in which you have only a 1 in 5 chance of survival. Long odds. Thankfully I doubt whether young lions are sat down and briefed that their chances aren’t good.

tsalala-breakaway-jt-4

It’s difficult to imagine these small cubs growing up to become apex predators of Africa. Which cubs do you think these are? Circa January 2014.

This is all leading up to my point, which is that the success rate of prides when it comes to raising cubs in the Londolozi area has been nothing short of remarkable over the last few years. The statistical significance of any study is improved by a longer study period and a larger sample size, so if one were simply to look at the last few years of lion cub mortality – or lack thereof – in the Mhangeni or Tsalala prides, one would have a seriously skewed data set. We could go into the factors for the high survival rate, but that would take some time. Suffice it to say the Majingilane dominance has been a major contributing factor.

The reason I was thinking about all this was because I was going back through some old photos this morning, kind of a ‘what happened on this day three years ago’ sort of thing, and from early January of 2014 I cam upon the photos that feature in today’s post. These pictures are of the Tsalala cubs at the time, all of which have survived (when given the odds, only one should have had an outside chance of making it) and which now form the Tsalala Breakaway pride.

tsalala-breakaway-jt-2

The older tailed lioness and her four cubs (one female and three males) from January 2014. I doubt if anyone would have predicted that all these cubs would survive.

When I say ‘survived’, that does not mean that things are done and dusted. For the young lioness in the breakaway pride, the odds of survival are significantly greater than for her brothers. Young males entering their nomadic phase of life still have the odds stacked against them, as they have to now survive on their own in an area in which any adult male they encounter will want to kill them. The Tsalala Breakaway males do have it easier than some, in that they are a group of three; their chances of hunting success are necessarily greater, and should they all survive the next couple of years, they stand a much greater chance of taking over and maintaining a hold on a territory than would a single male or a coalition of only two.

tsalala-breakaway-jt

The cubs drink from a small pan. They had been feeding on a kudu kill that their mother’s had made.

For the Tsalala lions as a whole, looking at both the Breakaways and core pride, it seems the crunch time is also steadily approaching. The original Tailless female died at the age of around 15, and although it was suspected that she was killed by the Tsalala breakaway females (now the adult females of the Mhangeni pride), she was nevertheless in the twilight of her life. With the current tailless female (at the moment with the Breakaway pride) and her sister (with the 6 year old lioness and their cubs) also turning 15 this year, and therefore also steadily nearing the end of their lives, the Tsalala pride – like so many times before – almost certainly seems to be approaching another crossroads.

2017 will most likely be decisive for them.

Filed under Lions Wildlife

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

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15 Comments

on How to Survive as a Lion Cub

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GM Majingilane
Guest

great article .Why did the mhangeni breakaway kill the older tailed lioness?And the lioness with cubs (Not the sister of tailed ) is she six or three years old

James Tyrrell

Apologies, I think I may have written it incorrectly. It was the Tsalala Breakawayas of the time (now the Mhangeni pride lionesses) that we think were the cause of death of the older tailless female. From tracks in the sand it appeared as though she had an altercation with them over a kudud kill, and being outnumbered must’ve sustained worse injuries.

PATRICK CASMIR KISARIKA
Guest

nice research i like it

Ann Seagle
Guest

Great information. Thank u. Love learning from ur experiences and teaching.

Francis Daisy janssen
Guest

Thank you very interesting did not know the fact. , just love your up date,s. And your photo,s are stunniny too

Rebecca
Guest

Fascinating! You have a great style for exploring the reality for cubs without focusing on their cuteness or just the stats. You make me want to rush back to observe them too!

Jill Larone
Guest

James, it’s really wonderful knowing that they have all survived and in such great shape! I saw these cubs late in 2013 and they have such a special place in my heart. I hope they go on to adulthood and we are able to follow their lives into old age — that would be incredible!

Jenny
Guest

Thanks James for a very thought provoking and sobering post. It certainly makes you reflect on the fragility of life especially in the bush. On our last visit in July we saw some very playful cubs enjoying time with each other and their mum and the thought that only one may survive to
maturity is sad.

Mike D
Guest

It is amazing that all the Tsalala Cubs survived to adulthood in such a volatile environment. It is testament to their mothers skill, experience and instincts. The future of the three males should be very interesting. They could be the next kings in a few years. Love the lion updates.

Lucas buxton
Guest

It’s amazing the way that londolozi communicates through diverse culture,history and amazing wildlife, it certainly is the protector of all amazing Things in Africa, and provides an amazing delicate experience at the highest level.

Dot and Frank Stermole
Guest

Hi James, We were lucky enough to have been with you when we saw the nine cubs waiting for their mom’s return (and their quick run down to the river when they sensed the lioness’) Do you have any idea how many of those survived? .

James Tyrrell

Hi Dot and Frank,
I remember that sighting well! Wasn’t that when we had a rather hairy descent into the river?
Unbelievably, all of those cubs survived. The 6 female cubs are now the Mhangeni breakaway pride, and the males have ventured off on their own, but as far as I know, all three were together when last they were seen.
Any plans for a return visit?

Aadi Seedat
Guest

Great article. Fantastic way for us in the city to reminisce of days in the bush

Tim Musumba
Guest

Male cubs do face a tough life out there to survive unlike female cubs who have a greater advantage by staying with the pride even i adulthood!A single Male Lion is disadvantaged once it becomes a nomad unless he joins up with another nomad male but i do believe a coalition of two just like a coalition of three has a very great chance of surviving out there in the wild than a single nomad male will have!

James Tyrrell

Definitely Tim,
Extra numbers do help!

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