“Expect the unexpected” is an apt phrase associated with the bush and the interactions that one may observe. This was certainly the case whilst recently watching the Tsalala breakaway pride finishing off an impala that they had killed. In the bush one is never sure what will happen next or when an interaction between rival species might occur.

Whilst feeding on the said impala ram, the Tailless lioness and her niece were seemingly unaware of the approaching breeding herd of elephants… or so we thought. With rustling in the nearby bushes and the cracking sound of breaking branches emanating from the thicket line, the elephants got a scent of the lions and gradually made an investigative approach. The experienced Tailless lioness realized the danger and grabbed the remains of the impala, dragging it in her powerful jaws away from the elephants that were lumbering steadily towards her. We could only assume that is what she was doing, but later found out the reasoning behind this calculated move.

The younger lioness gnaws on the hindquarters of an impala. By this time the Tailless lioness had already retreated to a safer distance leaving the seemingly unaware and preoccupied younger lioness behind.

Continuing to feed on the leftover scraps, the younger lioness kept a careful eye on the approaching herd, waiting until the last moment, when the elephants proceeded to trumpet and charge at her, chasing her off the kill.

This photo was taken twenty minutes before the interaction occurred. A large herd of elephants had previously been drinking at a small pan a few hundred feet away and unknowingly, albeit initially, moved off into the nearby thicket line in towards the feeding lions.

By this time, the Tailless female had stashed parts of the impala and removed herself from the impending danger presented by the pachyderms. After the interaction between these iconic species, the lionesses began to contact call for each other.

The Tailless lioness gracefully, yet menacingly trots back to where the interaction took place, cautiously listening for any contact calls…

A bloodied Tailless lioness pauses to listen to the faint calls close by.


As she hears the calls from the younger lioness, her attention and demeanour immediately change as she stares in that direction.

Upon reuniting, we realised that something far greater than what we thought was actually occurring. There was a soft chirping sound emanating from the nearby shrubs, and after a response from the Tailless lioness her young cubs came galloping towards her.

The Reunion: Almost joyful human-like facial expressions can be seen on the young cub as she reunites with her mother.

The Tailless lioness proudly leads her two young cubs to the safely stashed away remaining impala carcass.

It is amazing to note that that although we had no idea her young cubs were in the immediate area, the sounds created from the elephants had more than likely caused the Tailless lioness to hide her cubs away, removing them from the potential threat of the elephants. Having observed this situation far earlier than we did, she successfully managed to keep a part of the impala kill for her cubs to feed on. Even though the elephants were not going to eat any of the carcass themselves, it seems that the female was nevertheless attempting to stash some for later.

The experience and intellect of the Tailless lioness ensured that not only were her cubs safely hidden from the imminent threat, but too that she managed to salvage a large portion of the impala for her cubs to feed on.

As the sun began to set we left the Tsalala breakaway pride as they finished off the remains of the impala ram. With relatively full stomachs they rested close by and were found the next day not far away. Resting on the cool sand alongside the Sand River, we watched them inquisitively watching passing waterbuck and the frantic behaviour of a flock of guinea fowl.

Captured the following afternoon, the Tailless pride were found resting on a sand embankment alongside the Sand River.

Filed under Featured Lions Wildlife

About the Author

Callum Gowar

Field Guide

Growing up in Cape Town, the opposite end of South Africa from its main wildlife areas, didn't slow Callum down when embarking on his ranger training at Londolozi at the start of 2015. He had slowly begun moving north-east through the country anyway, ...

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on Can Lions Plan?

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Jill Larone

Great post, Callum, and fantastic pictures! The Tailless Lioness is such a smart lady and a great mother. I hope she will be able to keep these cubs safe and they have long lives ahead of them.

Mary Beth Wheeler

Really nice story, Callum. Love the expression on the face of the little cub upon meeting up with her Mum!

Alison Smith

great post !Tailless Lioness doing what mothers do best! one senses the happiness in the cubs face!

Susan Strauss

Love love love!!

Eulalia Angédu

The close bonding between the lionesses and the cubs signifies theme of love in the wild.Even after the loss of a life the blood on the lionesses mouths still brings out an undeniable beauty Awesome pictures CALLUM!Keep up the good work.

Callum Evans

I think predators definetely have the intelligence needed to plan. I’ve read that’s due in part to their diet of meat, which increases brain size (in most cases), and often their prey is hard to catch and this requires a bigger brain that enables predators like lions and tiger to formulate something similar to what we would describe as a plan or strategy.

Marinda Drake

Lions are very intelligent. I am sure as they do plan a hunt they can plan to ensure the survival of the cubs. We saw the Tsalalas in 2016 killing a young nyala. The tailless, her sister and the younger lioness knew exactly what to do. Each had their role to play.

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