Again we find ourselves asking; what is going on with the Tsalala Pride?
A few weeks ago, Tom Imrie followed the tailed lioness from the pride to Doc’s Crossing in the Manyelethi Riverbed, a beautiful sandy stretch of river punctuated with the occasional palm island, and scattered here and there with clumps of debris from the January 2012 and 2013 floods.
The lioness had been seen over the previous few days with definite suckle marks on her teats, and as she moved along the Manyelethi in the direction of Marthly Pools (where the pride has denned a number of times before), Tom was hopeful that he might be the first to see her new litter.
He followed her until she reached a densely thicketed island in the riverbed, just South East of Southern Cross Koppies, and emanating from the bushes shortly after the lioness had entered, Tom and his guests heard the unmistakeable sound of cubs crying from within. At least two cubs, possibly more, was Tom and Tracker Jerry’s guess.
They were proved right, as the following couple of weeks saw a few rangers catching glimpses of the cubs as the lioness made repeat visits to the den. At least 3, but more likely 4 cubs was the final number we were sure were being secreted there.
Recently, the mother has moved the den site, out of the riverbed and onto the Southern Cross koppies themselves. Our concern now, is will she continue to raise the cubs, or will they be abandoned for unknown reasons, as we know at least two Tsalala Pride litters to have been in the last year.
Lionesses who birth a single cub will generally abandon it, knowing that the energy investment of attempting to get a single youngster through to maturity is not worth it when they could start again and potentially have a litter of four, five or even six cubs at the next attempt. The tailed, tailless and even the older tailless lioness have all been unsuccessful over the past year in raising cubs, with the current sub-adult in the pride the only surviving offspring of the pride since the Mhangeni females were born over four years ago.
Although a couple of sightings have been had of the tailed lioness at the Southern Cross koppies in the last week, over the last few days the females have been with the Majingilane coalition in the Sand River on a buffalo kill, and it is unclear whether or not the cubs have been nursed. They are still very young (we estimate somewhere around 3 months old) and so still require a lot of attention, yet unless the female has only been returning to the den at night, it seems they have been left unattended for a good few days now. That is not entirely true, as the sub-adult in the pride was seen at the den yesterday morning, although what contribution she can make in helping raise the cubs will be minimal.
Why would a lioness potentially abandon four apparently healthy cubs to their fate? It is certainly too early to say for sure, but given the erratic behaviour of the pride around their last few litters over the last 12 months or so, our suspicions are beginning to be raised. The pride was found at Finfoot crossing this morning, and their tracks came directly from where they were with the Majingilane yesterday morning, so it doesn’t seem as if the mother visited the cubs last night.
Will this be another failure in the ongoing saga of this most interesting yet often confusing of prides? Or are our fears unjustified?
Your thoughts below, please…
Written by James Tyrrell
Photographed by Kate Neill and Londolozi guests – Jackie and Leo Wessling