Driving through the open savannah in the south-western part of Londolozi, I was surprised when we spotted a single lioness walking with intent, a few hundred metres ahead of us.
When we stopped to have a closer look through binoculars, our jaws dropped. She was carrying a cub!
My heart soared. This was a first for me, even having guided for close to four years here.
The cub was tiny; not more than six to eight weeks old. Having seen the whole pride in the area the night before, looking hungry, we realised that the mother was likely taking her cub back to the pride after a successful hunt. But where was the pride now?
Of all the places to see a lioness carrying a cub, this was not the area I expected.
We were treated to breathtaking moments as the lioness strolled right past us with her defenceless cub hanging from her mouth. We could see how she tired from time to time, stopping to place the cub down and encouraging it to walk. This was tricky though, as for each step the mother took, the cub had to take about five to keep up. In addition, the cub couldn’t see a thing through the jungle of grass that it was navigating.
The mother was forced to pick the cub again as it was just too slow and too tired to keep up. This process repeated itself over and over for almost 1,5 hours. We could not believe how far the mother was taking this tiny cub. We could see how full the mother was – evidence that she had been with the pride and had already fed. She knew exactly where she was going, we just had to try and stick with her.
After a total distance of about five kilometres (measured afterwards on Google Earth), the pride was reunited. The lioness looked the most excited as she rushed ahead to greet her sisters, leaving the cub behind for a few moments. After a series of head nudges and some grooming, the lioness ran across to the remains of a wildebeest that the pride had caught the night before. She grabbed what remained and pulled it away from the others for herself.
The cub that had just joined the pride with her was greeted by the other three cubs before it went to try and feed itself. Still a bit young, it soon gave up and wandered across to one of its aunts and attempted to nurse.
It was a heartwarming end to our morning of following the lioness. Seeing the strong bonds between all the lions was amazing to witness.