We left camp with the distant sound of lions roaring in the south eastern parts of the reserve, an area where the Ntsevu pride has been dominant for some time now. With the cold air whisking past our ears and the sun just starting to peek over the horizon, our excitement was starting to build. We stopped on an open crest to listen for any further call. We were in luck, the calls of more than one lion, synchronised to make the force of the call even louder.
En route in that direction, Shadrack could see tracks of a single lioness in the road. Upon closer inspection it was in fact the mother lioness and her five cubs tracks, as the young ones followed their mother down the road, occasionally stopping to play with each other. With experienced and trained eyes, Shadrack deciphered the entire story of what the lions had been doing, from where they were playing and chasing each other, to all the scuff marks from all the rough and tumble amongst them. Shadrack also noticed where the mother had stopped to rest. With the help of Shadrack I was able to picture the scene in my head.
A little further down the road Shadrack and I were off the vehicle trying to establish what direction the tracks were going. No sooner had we began tracking did my guest, who no more than 30m behind us started calling from the vehicle, “Guy, Guy, there’s a lioness behind us”. Turning around, we saw a lioness about 150m away in an open clearing of soft tawny coloured grass, staring straight in our direction. Keeping our excitement at bay we calmly climbed back into the vehicle and approached the lioness to get a closer view. This was a spectacular sighting with the beautiful golden light shining on her as she moved through the grassy open clearing.
At this point in time we still had no sign of the cubs as the grass was long enough to keep them hidden. We parked the vehicle at a distance and watched anxiously to see if we could see the grass moving in her trail. This would be a clear indication that the cubs were with her. A few moments later we noticed a tuft of grass move close behind her, and finally we knew that she had the cubs trailing a few meters behind her.
We were ecstatic as we watched this lioness lead her five cubs out onto the road where we could experience our first clear view of the cubs. She stopped momentarily, almost to see if they were all still following, and then proceeded to walk straight down the road in our direction. The grass on either side of the road created a channel for the cubs as they moved down the road. There was silence on the vehicle as we watched them bounding down the road in front of their mother, confident in her protector right behind them.
We followed them as they moved off the road and down towards the Maxabene dry river bed. With dappled light breaking through the canopy of the trees, they had enough shade to move into during the hotter parts of the day. At this point in the day they were still making the most of the warmth of the morning rays. Cubs of this age aren’t used to walking long distances and tire fairly quickly. We were not too sure how long or how far they had been walking before we found them but some of them did appear to be enjoying the rest. Some of the cubs continued to play while others followed suit of their mother.
It wasn’t long before all six of them were settled down and resting in the comfort of their mother’s care.