It is not often one gets to spend time with the same animals on three consecutive drives. The nature of the business means that you are invariably looking for leopards on one drive, lions the next and elephants after that, or some variation on the theme. Recently though, I was fortunate enough to be with the Sparta lionesses and their new cubs for three drives in a row.
Drive One was the first time I had seen the cubs, and we were treated to the sight of the mother fetching them from the nearby Tamboti thicket in which she had been stashing them, and bringing them to out to the other lionesses who were lazing about in the sun. We spent a very special hour watching the little ones play and suckle alternately while the older lionesses kept a protective eye on them.
That afternoon, after I had dropped off my guests at the airstrip, I jumped on drive with another ranger and we set out for the clearing on which the pride had been left. A fruitless 90 minute search of the area yielded no results, and we were giving up hope in the fading light when a last scan of the thicket line revealed three very curious little faces peering out at us. The cubs had been left in hiding by the pride, and as it is our policy not to view young cubs without the protection of their mother, we were preparing to move out after a brief view, when we heard the telltale sounds of growling lions on a kill from about 200m to our south. Racing to the scene, we were greeted by the sight of the four adult lionesses snarling at each other while devouring a recently killed impala ram. The blood-red setting sun only served to add drama to an already dramatic scene.
After an amazing day’s lion viewing, we nevertheless decided to return to the area the next morning to try for a better and longer view of the cubs than we had had in the evening. We were not disappointed, as we soon located the pride with the cubs in tow. Only a few minutes after we had found them, the nearby roars of the Majingilane coalition caused slight concern amongst the lionesses, and they moved the little ones closer to the thicket. They stayed out in the open however, and so began one of the most magical hours I have ever spent in the bush, as the three tiny cubs gamboled about, annoying their mother and aunties with their antics, but providing the most delightful entertainment for those of us privileged enough to be present.
What struck me most about these three very different drives was the transition of the mother lioness from loving, protective motherhood when with her cubs to snarling savagery at the kill. Same animal, two different faces.
Written, Filmed and Photographed by: James Tyrrell