It is with great pleasure that we can announce the existence of the newest litter of the Tsalala Pride.
The older tailed lioness has been denning the cubs (two of them) under the enormous boulders that feature prominently in the Manyelethi Riverbed upstream from Marthly Pools.
It was quite a surprise when the cubs were first discovered – not in the boulders but in a little island of vegetation in the river nearby. Because of the Tsalala split caused by the Matimba arrival, the tailed sister and her daughter from 2011 have been seen in company together over the past few months, while the other five lions in the pride (tailless female and four sub-adults) have been spending much of their time east of our boundary. We had seen the tailed sister mating with the Matimba males on a number of occasions, and she started showing signs of pregnancy a couple of months ago.
When they were seen in the same spot in the Manyelethi river over the course of a few days, suspicions rose, and when ranger Alfie Mathebula and tracker Shadrack Mkhabela peered into the thick tangle of debris and leaves near which the lionesses were lying, they could make out two tiny brown and spotty shapes.
Over the course of the next week or so, the lionesses were viewed consistently at the den-site, sometimes in the company of the Matimba males, but more often not. Each visit to the riverbed by a game drive would be filled with hope that the mother would bring the cubs out to nurse them, but hopes were almost always dashed, as she would invariably enter the thicket to suckle the litter.
Then, one morning not so long ago, ranger Nick Sims and tracker Bennet Mathonsi were viewing the lionesses fast asleep in the sand, not expecting them to do much, when the unexpected happened. Nick had actually been about to head back to camp for breakfast when the mother lioness suddenly stood up and walked towards the den. Expecting her to simply enter the bushes and disappear, Nick, Bennet and their guests were speechless when she re-emerged only seconds later, carrying the limp form of one of the cubs in her mouth.
Scarcely able to breathe, the vehicle watched, spellbound, as the lioness calmly walked past them and down the river to the big granite boulders about 100m away. After depositing the cub behind one of the boulders, she calmly returned and did the same with the second cub, thereafter settling down out of sight in the middle of a cluster of rocks. The younger lioness lay down in the sand outside the den, almost like a sentinel.
The cubs have been there since then, with the lionesses spending a considerable amount of time at the den-site. An unlucky kudu happened to wander into the riverbed a few days ago and was promptly snapped up by the lionesses. The cubs were taken to the kill (only about 50m from the den itself) but they didn’t eat any meat and are still suckling.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens if and when the pride reunites. Personally I don’t think the Tsalala pride will be a stable entity with the current sub-adult males again. They are almost three years old now, and it is unlikely they will know the security of being part of a full-pride again before the are finally pushed into their inevitable period of nomadic existence. The sub-adult female and the tailless lioness will likely rejoin at some point, but that also remains to be seen.