WOW beautiful series. How did you achieve the low camera angle?
When it comes to lions, Londolozi is a very exciting place to be right now. Over the past month, we’ve known of at least three females that have given birth on this special patch of African soil.
But the question is, where?
This, and sightings of the three females all having fresh suckle marks at one time or another, combined with the fact that the Sand River has been extremely high for the last few weeks, means that the cubs had to be on Londolozi. Only the bravest Lion mother would dare to carry her cubs across the Sand River when it is in torrent!
And so, we searched.
Daily, at least one guiding team would be trying to find out where these cubs were being kept. Drive after drive, those teams would arrive back to camp frustrated; there is definitely an element of friendly rivalry in the ranging team, especially when it comes to finding a den. Finding one of these elusive lairs requires a great deal of patience, it requires sitting with a sleeping lioness for hours on end, hoping upon hope that she will get up and go suckle her little ones.
Cubs need milk every 4 – 6 hours, and as positive as that sounds, many an afternoon has been spent with a slumbering beauty who, in the end, doesn’t move a muscle. A safer bet is to try and be with the mother just before sunset when she will (hopefully) want to suckle one final time before venturing out on the prides’ nightly hunt – but that is also definitely not a given.
Sean Zeederberg, our social media Guru, was just as keen (if not more so) as the rest of the ranging team to find the hiding place of these big cats’ offspring. For about a month, he had spent a great chunk of time methodically combing his way through suspected areas, but to no avail.
Having a few days off, I decided to join him on his relentless search… If that isn’t the best decision that I’ve made in the last little while, then I don’t know what is!
During the first couple of drives, we are by no means fruitless, we were treated to some incredible elephant sightings and several beautiful leopards along the way, but unfortunately, we didn’t come across the hide nor hair of cubs.
And then came the third afternoon.
We found a trio of lionesses lying extremely close to where we suspected at least one of the dens to be. It was clear to us that all three females had cubs; prominent teats, a heavy milk pouch and, best of all, dry suckle marks! The importance of the dry suckle mark cannot be understated, this meant it had been some time since they had last nursed, so they would surely soon (soon, being a relative term) need to go back to the den. And so, we settled in for the long wait.
But no sooner had we finished preparing our camera gear and begun to hypothesise on what was going to happen next, when suddenly, one of the females got up and walked to the nearest puddle to drink. This was exciting, a lioness up and walking at 5pm in summer when the sun was still high in the sky. But at that moment, neither of us voiced what we were thinking, lest we ruin the spell.
But when she finished drinking and walked away from her sisters directly to where we suspected she was keeping her cubs, we knew it was happening. A moment of excitement like this is hard to describe; it’s a mixture of anticipation, tension and an utterly desperate hope, all tempered by preparation for disappointment in the terrifying knowledge that she may walk into a thicket and disappear altogether. It is probably the best and worst feeling to have while on safari!
Just as she was about to enter into the thick stuff, Sean cut the engine and whispered, “listen”.
The female, now stationary, was letting out the softest of contact calls, almost a low hoot. We sat frozen in our seats, not daring to move, barely daring to breathe. Then, from the spike-thorn thicket she was facing, a chorus of answering mews and five tiny fur balls tumbled into view! A rolling pile of cuteness, all advancing on their mother with an adorably savage purpose; feeding time.
The next hour and a half was spent laughing and gasping in delight as these five cubs jostled for the four teats of their mother. Now at a month old, these cubs already have needle-sharp teeth and will clamp down on the mother if they feel they are being pushed out of the way by a littermate, and at this point, the mother would let out a soft frustrated growl and roll over. The ensuing chaos had us in hysterics.
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One of the most incredible parts of this experience was how relaxed the female was with our presence, even as one of the more boisterous of the cubs embarked on a clumsy exploration towards our vehicle, its round grey-blue eyes staring curiously up at us.
And finally, as the sun began to set, we decided to give the family some space and make our way back to camp. A large portion of the drive home was spent in quiet contemplation of having witnessed one of the most intimate moments you can have on safari.
Filed under Cubs Featured General Nature Lions Photography Ranger Safari experience Wildlife
Hi Mark, thanks very much. We have a special photographic vehicle with a low window that you can lie on your belly to get a great low angle. That in combination with the 600mm f/4.0 makes for some very special shots!
Thanks for the reply. Sounds like the truck to take!!!