Pretty much a month ago, to the day, one of the Ntsevu females was found with tiny cubs as she was moving them to what became a new den for a week. At the time we estimated them to be about two weeks old, as they were tiny.
She had slipped through the cracks and managed to give birth in central Londolozi and we did not even know. We were then spoilt with a few amazing sightings of the young cubs, until she moved them again…
Below is the video of her moving them to the initial den when they were first found.
The Ntsevu pride is going through a fascinating time as the pride fragments. The mothers are at a point where their attention is and will be focused on the next generation of cubs.
Having little patience with the many growing sub-adults and their hefty appetites, and the young lions still essentially part of the pride, there is extra pressure on the mothers to hunt more regularly in order to get enough food for themselves.
Normally the young females remain in the natal pride to help with hunting and raising cubs. Young males only amplify their mothers’ frustration when reaching sexually maturity, as they now show an interest in their relatives, so partly in order to prevent inbreeding they are pushed out.
The dominant Birmingham males also no longer tolerate the young males and push them out, forcing them into a nomadic lifestyle where they bide their time in order to grow and develop the necessary skills for fighting for and holding a territory.
We are not too sure whether the females are going to stay with their mothers or branch off in a break-away pride as the Ntsevu lionesses themselves did. With all the fragmentation going on it has been difficult to keep track of where the lions are and if any are missing or unaccounted for. Very seldom are they all seen together.
OK, back to the story of the cubs. After abundant rainfall throughout the summer months, the reserve is flush with vegetation.
Grass growth in particular was off the charts. As we now shift into the winter months, the grass is still ever-present but is now transforming into duller shades of brown and grey; perfect for young lion cubs to hide in as they can just blend in with their tawny and spotty coat.
The initial den was a fallen over tree with dense grass growth underneath it. The cubs would hide in here, only revealing themselves when the mother would call them out. If she was not there it was difficult to tell if the cubs were there at all. After a few days of no signs at this den we concluded she must have moved them to a new den.
Searching long and hard, it was a challenge to find the new hiding place. The block to the west of the old den is almost impenetrable, riddled with drainage lines and fallen over trees where the grass is nearly three feet tall, with many potential den-site options to choose from. It is practically impossible to see anything in grass further than two meters from the vehicle.
We still had no luck a month later.
Hope for the cubs was slim, until this morning.
After hearing lions calling in the cool morning air, we found two lionesses and a Birmingham male. As one lioness rolled over revealing her stomach to us, we could see clear, fresh suckle marks on her stomach. We now know the at least some of the cubs are alive; she must have moved them somewhere so well hidden even we could not find them.
We sat with her for a few hours hoping she would take us back to the den. The nearby clash of two impala rams fighting during the rut caught her attention and the three lions were up and heading in the impalas’ direction. After stalking the impala for a little while the impala saw the lions and began alarming. The hunt was over for now and the lions settled down for the rest of the morning.
No luck with them leading us back to the den this morning.
Our plan is to try head out this afternoon as early as we can to try find her and see if she may take us back to the den this evening.