This is a tricky one, as the pride is split so often.
The Sand River has essentially dried up for the time being, so animals previously dependant on what was recently a small trickle of water have been forced to disperse to get their liquid sustenance from a few pans and waterholes strewn about the reserve. It seems likely that the Ntsevu pride has started venturing further afield in order to follow their food sources. That’s the theory at least, and is exactly the same as the movements of the Sparta Pride from yesteryear; that pride spent the majority of their winter to the east of Londolozi in the Sand River, then during the rainy season when water was everywhere they would disperse more and spend most of their time on Londolozi’s central and western areas.
The pride’s movements aside, a number of cubs have been seen on the reserve over the past few weeks, and we suspect that there may be substantially more than 10 all told. Maybe even as high as 15 by now. If that is the case, the pride is numbering over 20 individuals!
The older cubs (6 of them, between two females) are closing in on 4 months.
Then there are a reported 4 cubs (also between two females) still being kept in the Sand River to the east of Londolozi, but latest reports suggest there are only two. Whether the other two have been killed or are simply being hidden somewhere else we are not sure.
A fifth lioness has given birth to 5 cubs, which isn’t common at all as the largest litters we generally see here are 4. These 5 are still very small and have only been seen on a few occasions.
The sixth and final lioness has some question marks over her. She has been spending her time predominantly in the Sand River downstream from the Londolozi camps, by herself, although occasionally she is in company with one or more of the Birmingham males. A number of rangers have reported that she looks heavily pregnant. Isolating herself from the pride is also typical behaviour from a lioness about to give birth, and the Sand River holds a number of dense debris piles among which a lioness could easily conceal her cubs.
Should she birth a litter, we are looking at at least five, and possibly all six lionesses with cubs. It is usually only at around 6 weeks old that a lioness will introduce her cubs to the rest of the pride, but imagine a scenario in which all the cubs are together?! Yes the mortality rate for young lions is high, but if the Mhangeni pride could raise 9 out of 10 on their first try (6 of which became the Ntsevu pride), there’s no reason why there progeny couldn’t perform a similar feat.
The success of this Tsalala lineage has been heart-warming to watch. Through the change-over from the Mapogo to the Majingilane, the original 4 Mhangeni females survived to reproduce, mating with the Majingilane themselves to raise 9 out of 10 cubs through to independence. Have a look at this footage from 2013, with that first batch of cubs on a zebra the adult lionesses had brought down the night before. 6 of the small ones you see here are the Ntsevu females when they were very young:
So will we be seeing almost 20 cubs all together in the next few months? Doubtful, but one can always live in hope…