Many people have a bucket list. Things to do and see or places to go before they die. Our sighting last week was something so rarely witnessed in the bush that nobody would sensibly put it on their list, knowing how remote their chances of seeing it to be: A lioness ferrying her newborn cubs from one den-site to another, carrying them each in her mouth, before returning for the next one.
A brilliant spot by Candy, one of my guests, revealed the lioness to us, walking about 50 meters to our right in a dense thicket. Reversing quickly, I managed to get a brief view of her back as she crossed a gap in the bushes, but we failed to find her again after we took the vehicle in after her. We guessed that she was one of the Sparta lionesses, most likely returning to the pride from a den-site, as we were fairly certain that her 10-day absence from the other four females meant she had given birth somewhere.
Driving around to a road further along her anticipated line of march, we failed to find her or any tracks in the sand, so we headed back to where we had last seen her to try and establish in which direction she had walked. Myself and senior tracker Eckson Sibuyi left the Land-rover and walked towards the thicket, stepping down into a wide drainage line scarcely 20m from the vehicle. As we descended, we both glanced to our left at the same time, and froze immediately as we saw the lioness staring at us from about 50 meters away. She was coming towards us, moving in the direction we had originally seen her going, but she was now further back towards where she had come from. The small bundle she was holding in her mouth immediately sent our pulses racing, as it was very evident that it was a tiny, tiny cub.
We immediately retreated back to the vehicle, and watched her calmly walk by in front of us, barely glancing in our direction, and vanish once more into the thicket where she had first disappeared. I was pretty incoherent with excitement by this time, scarcely believing what we were so privileged to be seeing. Again losing her in the dense bush, we were amazed to see her re-emerge after only about 5 minutes. She was clearly going back for another cub. We re-positioned ourselves on the road with a clear view in both directions, and were rewarded when she returned after a further 5 mins, bearing another precious cargo. She didn’t come back out and so we moved off, absolutely speechless.
I am now considering handing in my notice, as I know that as long as I work in the bush I will most likely never again see something so special!
Written and Photographed by: James Tyrrell
Filmed by: Derek Pollard