With the inevitable demise of the Majingilane male lion coalition the Birmingham male lions have been showcasing their strength, dominance and power through the eastern sections of Londolozi. Their deep, guttural roars fill the cool misty mornings and star-lit night sky as winter begins to set in. They have been gifted a prime area of the Sabi Sands and with regular roars, scent marking and mating activity, they are claiming it as their own.
It’s becoming a regular occurrence that when one or even all four of these male lions are found, there is bound to be an Ntsevu lioness in their vicinity, and mating bouts have been going on for months now. Females often switching to different males to secure impregnation and a future continuation of their genes. All of us rangers have been waiting in anticipation as to when a set of cubs will be discovered and the obvious signs of a lactating female and fresh suckle marks will solidify this and make it evident that lion cubs are around.
Ranger James Souchon, guests and I were incredibly lucky to have such an experience. This last week we discovered a single Birmingham male lion and Ntsevu lioness. Both were showing signs of interest in mating and when they settled up in an open clearing the snorting of impalas alerted us.
The impala weren’t fixated on the pair however; their attention was focused in the opposite direction. Out of nowhere a second lioness appeared. Her behaviour was strange and she showed aggression to the mating pair. A short while later it became evident that she had suckle marks. She had clearly given birth but where was she hiding her cubs?
She seemed agitated and started moving back in the direction she had come from. The other lions followed. Were we going to see cubs? Was she leading us to a possible den site? Our confusion about her behaviour mounted and we puzzled over what was happening. She lay up every few hundred meters, constantly alert of her surroundings, and continued to show aggression to the other lions seeming to disallow them from getting too close to her. Again she got to her feet and proceeded in the direction she came from and the others followed. The morning sun began warming the land around us and the heat of the day turned us back towards camp.
Later that afternoon we were determined to conclude the story and satisfy all of our curiosities. We returned to where we had left thew lioness. There lay a single male and female lion yet no sign of the lactating female. We ventured towards a nearby drainage line with thick vegetation (an ideal spot to hide cubs).
James, trackers Rich Mtabine, Lucky Shabangu and me disembarked our vehicles and proceeded to follow the tracks.
Following lion or any predator tracks into thick vegetation is something that should be done in absolute silence and with utmost care, as visibility is obviously severely limited.
On edge, we crept along, when suddenly a pair of francolins burst from the brush, screeching in panic. Needless to say we got the fright of our lives, and continued on at a snail’s. Seconds later, out of the very same bush from which the francolins had erupted came the growls of the Ntsevu lioness we had been following. We immediately retreated, giving her space and adhering to her obvious warning of not to come closer. Smiles beamed from ear to ear as we assumed she was guarding cubs.
Both my and James’ guests all climbed into one vehicle as not to impact the thick vegetation and minimize our disturbance to her safe haven and protection of cubs.
As we approached where the growls came from, there we saw three tiny cubs crawling around. They seemed totally unaware of our presence. What an incredible discovery! We were all in awe at what we were witnessing. The mother returned a few minutes later and began suckling the three young cubs. As the light dimmed and our view of the mother and three cubs was very limited we decided to make our way home and let her be in peace.
A wonderful conclusion to the day’s story and possibly a start of a new lion legacy. We will see what the next few days, weeks, months or years have to hold. Will they survive? Will they make it to adulthood? Will they carry forth the genes of the Birmingham male lions?
Unfortunately due to very limited view we weren’t able to capture any photographs of the cubs and shortly after discovery they crawled deeper into the thick vegetation. An ideal place to hide from any potential threat.