The story of the Tsalala lioness is quite remarkable. Having been alone for a year now, it is incredible that she has survived and is thriving. Because of her unique situation as a single lioness, her life seems to have drawn the attention and affinity of many Londolozi guests. People love an underdog (or cat in this case?) and with her having given birth to three cubs recently, she is proving to be a real survivor. She is the only hope for the Tsalala legacy, thus the survival of her cubs is paramount to continuing this lineage. Although the odds are not in her favour, she continues to surprise us.
For the last few weeks, the Tsalala lioness has been hiding her litter of three cubs in and out of the Manyelethi and Sand River, with no vehicle access. This had left us all wondering if the cubs were still alive. To add to the worry, the section of Sand River where she had been seen once with her litter is exactly where we had a sighting of the Ntsevu pride about a week later.
All doubts have been cleared up recently though. While tracking a male leopard, tracker Bennet Mathonsi came across tracks of a single lioness, surrounded by tracks of her cubs. We immediately gave up on the leopard and excitedly did a U-turn to follow her tracks. Within minutes, we were rewarded with quite possibly one of my favourite moments in my guiding career at Londolozi.
Finally, the three cubs had been brought out of the thickets of the river and onto some prominent granite boulders in the middle of Londolozi’s northern section. It was great to see that the mother and the three cubs are all looking healthy. See the video below for a view of the cubs and mother moving down the granite boulders together.
The cubs were born in the first week of March this year, thus as I write this they are only just three months old. It is around this age that a pride would start introducing cubs to kills. In the last week, Judas Ngomane and Rob Jeffery followed a drag mark that led them straight to an impala ram carcass. They investigated in the vehicle and were amazed to find the Tsalala female and her three cubs feeding on the kill! Now that the process of weaning the cubs off milk and introducing them to meat has begun, the lioness has the difficult task of not only catching prey for herself, but having to leave carcasses unattended and return later with her cubs (cubs will be left in the relative safety of a den area while the mother goes off hunting).
This moving back and forth is risky, but necessary for the cubs to gain exposure to kills and have access to the protein that is essential for their development. If the Tsalala lioness continues to move around in the areas that she has been frequenting – the Sand and Manyelethi Rivers and the associated deep drainage lines leading into them – the cubs will have good cover and hopefully remain safe.
We can all gather some inspiration from this single lioness’ ability to survive and now too her accomplishment at raising three cubs to this age thus far.
We will be sure to keep everyone updated on the ongoing story of the Tsalala lioness…