A single Ntsevu lioness had been seen isolated from the pride on a number of occasions, down in the south-eastern sector of Londolozi. Ranger Andrea Sithole had discovered her with a litter of cubs, stashed in a dense grass thicket under a fallen Knobthorn tree, but there was almost no way to get a view of the cubs inside the den, so thick was the grass.
Even when the lioness was viewed at the densite, she would invariably be outside the den by herself, with the cubs inside, and if she wanted to suckle she would also enter the thicket. It was practically impossible to catch more than a glimpse of fur of a cub.
The morning after the Mashaba female sighting, John decided to chance his luck and hope that he might get a view of the litter. It had been established over the course of a week that the lioness would move the cubs every couple of days between grassy clumps, and John and tracker Euce Madonsela were keeping their fingers crossed that they might be fortunate to witness a move.
Checking out the previous known den sites, there was no sign of any lion, but having circled the area carefully, Euce didn’t see any cubs tracks moving away, which suggested that the litter was still somewhere close by. The cubs had been seen moving with their mother between dens, and while she would often carry one, the rest would walk.
A chattering tree squirrel alerted John and Euce to the presence of a predator close by, and peering round a corner in the Maxabene Riverbed from the safety of the Land Rover, they saw a tawny coat lying in the sand, with some tiny shapes clustered around it:
After nursing the cubs a little bit, the lioness eventually moved up onto the riverbank, calling softly, and the 5 tiny cubs scampered up after her.
Sightings like this don’t come along all that often, and coming on top of the wild dogs and the Mashaba female in the dead tree from the previous 36 hours, everyone on John’s Land Rover knew just how lucky they were. The lioness stood on the lip of the bank for a few minutes while the cubs moved clumsily around her, and then she returned to the sandy riverbed. At one point she gently stooped to grab a cub between her jaws but then put it down once more. Lying in the shade, she settled down to let the cubs suckle.
The lioness has since moved the litter, we think back down to the Sand River where a few of the other females are keeping their cubs. Over the next few weeks we are expecting all the litters to slowly be integrated to the pride. It is tremendously exciting to see what is essentially the Sabi Sand Reserve’s youngest pride swelling its ranks!