A cub is missing from the Sparta Pride. Sub-adult would be a more accurate term, but whatever the nomenclature, there is, unfortunately, a distinct possibility that the young lion may be dead.
In a predator-rich area such as the Sabi Sands, the three first-time mothers of the Sparta pride have so far done a tremendous job in keeping 7 out of 8 cubs alive.
Three litters were born to these lionesses around the middle of last year (Litters of three, three and two), and only one fatality occurred early on. Lion cubs traditionally have a very high mortality rate, so we were in awe of these lionesses who with only one experienced female left in the pride (who sadly died earlier this year) kept their cubs out of harms way and provided enough food for them to survive on during the most dangerous months of the young lions’ lives.
The most important factor at play in cub survival is the stability of the male population, and with the Majingilane reigning supreme the Sparta pride has been able to avoid encounters with rival males, who would no doubt kill the cubs should they happen upon them. Hyenas ar another danger for lion cubs, yet with a drop in hyena numbers since the arrival of the Majingilane, the threat has been significantly lessened.
The Sparta sub-adults are all roughly a year or a little over, and after one year of age cub mortality drops off exponentially. We were therefore hopeful that the cubs would all make it through.
So what has happened to the missing cub? The answer is that we simply don’t know.
Most pride activity takes place under the cover of darkness when no-one is around, and if a cub gets killed late at night, it is usually labelled as ‘missing’ when the pride is next found.
Such is the case here.
We don’t want to get our hopes up that the cub may yet reappear, as chances are slim.
It was over a week ago that the whole pride of 10 was last seen together. On a morning in which all of the Majingilane were accounted for, the roars of a lion could still be herd emanating from the woodlands in the south-east. It was not one of the coalition, so it is presumed that it was the mother of the missing sub-adult, trying to call him. His tracks were found near the Maxabene riverbed, heading towards the Sand River itself, but nothing has been seen or heard of him for over a week, and we expect the worst…
We don’t know why he became separated from the pride and we don’t know if he is alive or dead. All we know is that when the Sparta pride were found this morning, there were still only 9 lions there…
Written and photographed by James Tyrrell