The problem with digital photographs is that the vast majority never get a second look. Particularly so when it comes to wildlife photos.

With high-end cameras firing away at 12 frames per second, it’s not hard to quickly bank 500 images from a sighting, probably 80% of which are going to look almost exactly the same, with just a whisker out of place here or an ear turned there.
Then one has to be ruthless when it comes to choosing which ones to edit and maybe even print, with only maybe ten at the most making the cut. I’ve heard professional photographers talk about knowing they were getting good when they started getting five take-home images per sighting, instead of only one or two.

That may not sound like a lot, but when you consider how many pictures are actually taken out on safari, 5-a-sighting as bankers is pretty good going.

My point is simply that when it comes to digital media, by far the bulk is going to remain saved on a memory card or hard drive somewhere, unlikely to grace a computer screen ever again after first viewing (if it wasn’t deleted immediately).

I’ve never been able to be that ruthless when it comes to deleting shots. Even though the actual photograph might be awful, I still enjoy the memory of when that picture was taken. Even after over 7 years at Londolozi, I can still remember almost every detail about the sighting in which photos were taken. Obviously the exciting big cat viewing has been more indelibly imprinted in my mind, but even random random impala or wildebeest photographs I can generally place on the property and contextualise.

Tsalala Lion Cub Chew Leadwood Jt

Because of that, I’ll often troll back through the Londolozi archives to see what I come across. As my understanding of photography has progressed, and editing software has become easier and easier to use, the occasional photo I come across from way back when might present itself for editing or use. Frustratingly most of my early shots were in JPEG format, which don’t lend themselves as well to editing. With the rate at which both cameras and editing software are being reinvented, I’d urge most people photographing wildlife to shoot in RAW. You never know when you might want to conduct an edit on a photo, and a JPEG tends to look over-edited very quickly.

Tsalala Cub 2011 Jt

In all honesty I just needed something as an intro to these photos, so having taken care of that, I’ll get into them now.

With the Tsalala Pride flirting with disaster, often going unseen for many days at a time, I was looking back at some old pictures of them when they were featuring far more prominently in Londolozi’s lion viewing. 2011 in particular was a golden time for them. 8 cubs in the pride and pretty localised movements made for some incredible sightings.

All these photos were from that era, but most have never seen the light of day, so I’ve retouched a few and tried to provide some context for each.

Maybe one day the Tsalala Pride viewing will be as prolific as it was 6 years ago, but for now, much of it will just be in memory…

Tsalala Lion Cub Rock Jt

This photo, as well as the two above, was taken in one of the most remarkable lion sightings I’ve ever been in. The pride with their 8 cubs was moving through a very rocky area, and we were trying to anticipate their movements to get ahead and get some oncoming photos. As we rounded a large boulder, I suddenly realised I had parked us into a dead end, unable to go further because of a large rock, but we were eye-level with the boulder next to us, literally touching distance away on our right. We decided to wait for a few minutes to see if the pride would move past, but were not expecting them to come and lie on the rock almost on top of us, totally unfazed by our proximity. Their height advantage acted as a natural barrier, and the cubs would take it in turns to eyeball us from less than two metres away at times. After a short while they became disinterested in us, and went back to stalking each other, as this one is doing.

Tsalala Cub Rex Jt

Sometimes lion cubs do relatively stupid things. Quite often in fact. This cub had found something to play with and became totally engrossed in what it was doing, not realising its mother and pride were moving on and getting further and further away. Eventually it looked up and couldn’t see any other lions, so started calling for them. If there is any audible communication between animals going on, especially young cubs, we keep the vehicles switched off so they can hear each other, as ranger Rex Miller was doing in the background here, but thankfully the cub’s mother was already on her way back to fetch it, and upon hearing her contact calls the cub scampered on to rejoin her.

Tsalala Lion Cub Yawn Jt

This is one of the few photos that I can’t quite remember, but I’m 99% sure it was in a sighting on the northern bank of the Sand River, in which the pride had just killed a big kudu bull in the thickets. Tom Imrie was the other ranger there with me. Visibility was limited but after we waited a while, some of the cubs came and lay out in the open. This was also during a time in which I was using portrait style far too much for photographs. 90% of the time shooting in landscape is what you need.

Tsalala Lion Cubs Jt

2011 was also when both adult Tsalala females still had tails. The older Tailless female was still off with the Breakaway pride (later renamed the Mhangeni pride) and would only rejoin much later. This sighting had Richard Ferrier and I think John Holley in it as the other two rangers. The lionesses had killed something, again near the Sand River, and were fetching the cubs to the kill. This was also the first of the two 2011 litters; the second litter had yet to be born, or if they had been, were still too small to be taken to kills.

Tsalala Lion Cubs Mound Jt

All 8 cubs from 2011 can be seen here. The fourth of the younger litter is tricky to see; it’s just behind the left hand one of the front three. The lionesses had been walking with the cubs but had decided to go off to hunt, so left them on this termite mound. In retrospect it wasn’t the wisest place to leave them, as they were visible for a long way in each direction.

Tsalala Lion Cubs Play Jt

Still being relatively new to the photography thing, my settings were almost always wrong. My white balance was far too warm here (hard to recover if the file is a .jpeg), and I also didn’t think to include the reflection. It’s from situations like these that you learn the most though, as a return to the rangers room to show off the photos you’re so proud of will often be met with raucous laughter from your fellow guides as they point out what your settings should have been. It’s all in a fun, competitive spirit, and your biggest mistakes almost always result in the biggest improvements.

Tsalala Meets Mhangeni Jt

This sighting was as serious punctuation mark in the Tsalala Pride’s turbulent history, as the young Breakaway females (foreground) had met up with their mothers, and the original Tailless female – who had been caring for them for over 18 months – was rejoining her daughters. No one knew what the outcome was going to be, but this encounter, although relatively peaceful, certainly wasn’t the joyous reunion many of us expected, and as it turns out, the four young lionesses did end up going their own separate way.

Tsalala Lion Cub Tree Jt

Simple things can provide endless hours of entertainment for young cubs. This small marula tree acted as a jungle gym for more than an hour as all the cubs in the pride took turns chasing each other up, down and around it.

Tsalala Lion Groom Jt

As I’m sure you can see, this was shortly after the Tailless female (younger one) had lost her tail to hyenas. Her stump (right of picture) had not fully healed, and she had only just rejoined the pride after spending quite a long time away from them while she recovered, even hovering at death’s door for a couple of days. If one looks closely you can see that she was still suckling her cubs, as one is nursing in this photo. One can also see the size difference between the two litters from 2011 starting to be more evident, as the cub doing some grooming is far bigger than the one it is licking.

Tsalala Old Tailless Cub Jt

Totally unexpectedly, the old Tailless lioness gave birth to a single cub in 2012. Although lions generally abandon single cubs, she made an attempt to raise this one, possibly realising that it would almost certainly be her last litter. Sadly the cub disappeared at only around 4 months, but we still enjoyed some wonderful viewing of this tiny lion while it was with the pride.

Tsalala Lion Cub Jt

Probably my favourite picture of a Tsalala lion. This was in the same sighting as the top three photos. I don’t know what the cub was looking at, but its expression is, at least for me, enchanting.

 

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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17 Comments

on Photo Feature: Tsalala Cubs of 2011

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Marinda Drake

Wonderful memories James. I’ve got a few photos of the Tsalala pride of 2011 as well. I do hope the pride survive. It is a costly lesson shooting in jpeg. Making mistakes is sometimes the only way I learn what not to do.

Joanne Wadsworth

Always wonderful to look back and reflect on old images. Yours are both unique and lovely. I also appreciated the sharing of your own photographic journey of do’s and do nots. You know, I think James is very valuable to Londolozi.

James Tyrrell

Thanks Joanne, very kind of you to say 🙂

Dipti Dahal

Wonderful photos James! Any word on the three males of the Tsalala breakaway pride? From what I recall they had moved off on their own a while ago.

James Tyrrell

Dipti I believe only two have been seen together, I think on Sabi Sabi and Mala Mala if my memory serves me correctly.
Not sure of their current status unfortunately…

Iren Juppa

Thanks for the Memories. ♥

Denise Vouri

Your reflections and accompanying photos are a tribute to this amazing pride. Additionally, you always pass along some useful information whether it concerns flora or fauna or photography tips. It is so true about jpg vs raw – had I only realized the difference I would have taken a different camera on my trip in 2007 and my previous years’ photos were all shot with film. Last year I did shoot in raw and it made a definitive difference- now, just to get the best exposure for the varying backgrounds and lighting!! Next trip……

Deana Amendolia

Thank you for sharing these photos! A trip down memory lane. We first met the Tsalala pride (and Sparta pride) in 2011 and they continue to have a special place in our hearts. We are hopeful they can pull through this rough time. We must have a thousand photos of them by now, always good to look back through old times.

Peggy Fox

Very cool! Its helpful to know the history before I first came to Londolozi in 2016.

Ian Hall

One of the things about shooting on slide, is it teaches you to be more selective. I miss that

James Tyrrell

Hi Ian,
I agree. Every photograph was a decision carefully weighed up. If you botched it, it cost money!!

Callum Evans

Really great archive!! I’ve always shot in JPEG and I have to admit that they can look over-edited with certain photos. Recently I tried shooting in RAW for the first time and I have to say it was a very different experience on Lightroom. I will definetely use it a lot more, but I just need the opportunity to practice.

Michael & Terri Klauber

James, What an fantastic story and thanks for you honesty on your early images. We have quite a few of what I would call “rookie” jpg images for our earlier experiences at Londolozi too. From our learning at Londolozi we are RAW all the way. I know we saw some of the cubs together and you have reminded us that we need to spend some time looking back!

We were wondering if there is a “identification system” with lioness (discounting the obvious Tailless females) similar to leopards? We are remembering that the Majingilane males were always identified by their specific markings….

James Tyrrell

Hi Michael and Terri,

Great question – and a frustrating one at the best of times. We have been working on a lion ID kit for some time, but there is such turnover that it requires constant reworking. To be honest, our main focus has always been on our leopard ID kit and we probably haven’t been as diligent with our lion record keeping as we could have been, tending to ID lions simply by their prides than as individuals. Lions also have spot patterns like leopards, but they are slightly harder to make out. Features like torn ears, blotches on noses, and colouration usually help us tell them apart, but in a small pride (eg Tsalala) it’s never usually a problem. Given that the Ntsevu pride are now 6 strong, and the Mhangeni pride are splitting and we will be seeing a lot more young lions about the place, it might be time to revamp our individual Lion identifying. Watch this space…

Mj Bradley

Thank you for the wonderful photos and story of the Tsalala’s of 2011. While you may not have been the photographer you are today, they are still photos most of us would be proud of. I hope the Tsalala pride can somehow find a way to make it back from the brink.. It is sad to see such a legacy fade away.. I know they leave a rich ongoing legacy but they are no longer known as the Tsalala’s. Thank you James..

James Tyrrell

HI MJ,

Don’t worry, they are still very much known as the Tsalalas. It just remains to be seen whether they’ll come back from the brink or not. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed.

D. Phillips

What a beautiful collection. So precious. I thank you.

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