Up on a koppie next to the Manyelethi River there is a small cave. It’s hard to see as the road that runs past the koppies passes it to the east, and the cave is on the southern face, hidden from the road by a large-leafed rock fig.
In the winter of 2013 four small cubs were born to the Tailed Tsalala lioness; three males and a female. All four cubs made it to independence; an unusual occurrence in a lion litter. The males have since dispersed as a coalition, moving south in the Sabi Sand Reserve and as far as I know out of the reserve entirely, into the Kruger National Park.
The female remained with her mother and aunt, through the turbulent splits caused by the influx of new coalitions, until eventually, after the deaths of the two senior lionesses of the pride, she was left all alone, the sole survivor of a legacy spanning 20 years.
Over the course of last year she was seen in company with one or other of the Birmingham males on multiple occasions, and many was the time we suspected her of being pregnant, but nothing ever came from it. As recently as January, she showed signs of being heavily pregnant, but when no sign of her giving birth was had, we were giving up hope. The lioness kept a low profile and wasn’t seen too often.
And then, yesterday afternoon, Ranger John Mohaud was on a drive emerging from the Manyelethi Riverbed and pulled off an amazing spot of a lion’s head in long grass of one of the Southern Cross koppies:
This would normally be an unlikely place for a lioness to be, but knowing the recent history of the lioness (who John and co. immediately recognised as the Tsalala female), it was immediately assumed that she had a den up in the rocks.
Driving through the bush to get closer (along an old two-track that was last in use when this lioness was being denned here), they were only afforded a brief view before the lion got up and moved into a cave in the rocks, disappearing from view. Squeals of the cubs were heard from inside the den, but no further sign of the female was had.
This was the exact cave that the Tsalala female herself was born in, and now almost 6 years later, history has repeated itself.
Ranger Alex Jordan saw the female a few days ago, and it appeared as though she was heavily pregnant. She was lost heading in the direction of the koppie on which she is now denning, so it is more than likely she was actually on her way to give birth. That puts the cubs at around 3-4 days old. Their eyes will still be closed, and they will hardly even be moving. More than likely we won’t be able to see them for a few weeks still.
We have been waiting months for this exact scenario to unfold, so needless to say there is a lot of excitement in the guiding and tracking team. The den is very secure, so it is unlikely the lioness will move the cubs for awhile. We would hope to catch our first sight of the cubs at the end of the month at the earliest, but maybe only into April.
Could this be the start of the turning of a corner for the Tsalala name?