I am woken at 03h30 by a single male lion calling. It does not sound that close, so being woken by these calls surprises me as I am normally a deep sleeper.
Is it my subconscious alerting me to the presence of the lion, knowing that my guest’s dream is to hear a lion roaring? I am in a panic to try and find the phone to call my guest’s room. It is 03h30 though, and I am in my own room – no lodge phone there. The only way to get hold of Brad would be to radio reception and get them to call him, by which time the lion would be quiet and may not even call again…
It’s our last morning drive together. We’ve had a great couple of days and feel confident that the magic of the Lowveld will deliver something special as a send-off this morning. We don’t hear it but someone else does – a male lion roaring, north of the camps. This is our chance! I mention to the team on the vehicle behind me that I had been woken up by a lion roaring – maybe it was the same one? We had also spoken of the story of the Tsalala lioness and her lone surviving cub. Could it be her?
As we bounce across Finfoot crossing, we see the fresh tracks of a male lion that had walked down the sandy beach early this morning. Our excitement levels grow. Tracker Bennet Mathonsi directs us along the roads as he follows the trail that the male lion had walked just hours before. Eventually Bennet steps off the vehicle and follows the tracks alone, on foot, as they had gone off the road now. At this same time, another two trackers – Euce Madonsela and Life Sibuyi – find tracks of the Tsalala lioness and her cub about one kilometre further north. The tracks of the male were headed in the same direction. Were the lions calling to each other? Was the male the father of the cub and if not, what will happen if they meet up?
We had been searching for close to 40 minutes by now. Bennet radioes that he was still following the tracks and that the male lion had been running. Moments later, Rob Jeffery gives the call that we were hoping for… “Pete and Nick, I have found them. The Tsalala lioness and her cub are with the male.” Bennet has also just got view of them and has to make a quick retreat back where he’s come from so as not to disturb them.
It is the father of the cub. Luckily! A Birmingham male.
We have not seen the male with the lioness for many weeks now. The two remaining Birmingham males spend so much time with the Ntsevu pride (understandably so as their opportunities to acquire food from them are much greater due to the hunting success of the lionesses) that very little time is devoted to patrolling their territory and checking on the single Tsalala female.
We watch as the trio greet each other and move in and out of the Manyelethi River. Even the cub rubs up against the male lion, completely dwarfed by his sheer size!
It’s comforting to know that in this enormous reserve, where intruding male lions are the biggest threat to the cub’s survival, at least one Birmingham male is still maintaining a vested interest in this lioness and their progeny.