The Ntsevu Lionesses’ stories have been told by many rangers in the Sabi Sand Nature Reserve for many years. It is said that they are possibly some of the biggest lionesses around, even towering over some of the male lions, that their hunting skills crown them powerful huntresses and that not even a fully-grown giraffe is too big for them to take down. Other lions do not want to mess with these lionesses, they are not afraid to fight anything that comes their way even if it’s a male lion or one of their sisters. They will fiercely protect their territory and their cubs within it. They will protect their legacy for it to live on through their offspring.
I too believe all the stories that are told about these lionesses. I have witnessed all of it with my own eyes. Recently, one female, in particular, has been standing out for me. This lioness is currently a mother of two young female cubs. She is one of the original six Ntsevu Lionesses and I have enjoyed watching her behaviour of late.
This Ntsevu Lioness for some reason kept her cubs away from the rest of the Ntsevu Pride’s cubs for a few months. Usually, mothers will birth their cubs in a separate den and keep them there for a few weeks as they find their feet and develop. They can be known to then move cubs all into the same den if the age of the cubs is close. From there, cubs will join the pride after about three months old and move around with the pride as they are stronger and able to handle the strength of older cubs.
Whether it is because she thought her daughters were too young to join the older, bigger cubs that could hurt her cubs while they play with each other? Or whether it is because she wanted to hunt and provide food for only her two cubs so that they did not have to share her kill with the rest of the pride ensuring maximum nutrients and survival of her cubs. Or simply just because! We don’t know.
We were fortunate enough to watch what looked like the first time these two young female cubs had a meet-up with the rest of the Ntsevu Pride and cubs. The mother appeared very nervous and moved her two cubs further away from the pride. Every time the curious older cubs came closer to try and meet the two female cubs, she would growl at them. I have never seen the first meet before so I was not sure if it was unusual behaviour, however, I can say that what happened next was unusual though.
I will preface this with the fact that the Ntsevu Females have been very much on edge of late, often breaking out in spats with each other, or with the Ndzhenga Males over what could be seen as absolutely nothing. This could be due to the pride dynamics shifting and changing after the Birmingham Males were overthrown and the pride split.
So now back to the story, there had been a brief tussle between one of the Ntsevu Females and one of the Ndzhenga Males, not too sure of the cause, after this the mother of the two female cubs mentioned earlier ran in and bit one of the older cubs from her sister’s litter. Upon letting it go and things settling down, the cub struggled to walk and was badly injured. She did not kill this cub but with the aggression she went after it with, did she intend to kill it?
The cub did survive for a few days but has since been missing probably meaning that it did not survive. This incident sat with me for a while and I still cannot think why the female would have done that. Her cubs were safe and far away at the time, so what provoked her to attack the cub? I don’t think we will ever know but it was a fascinating interaction between lionesses of the same pride and ones that supposedly are so closely linked.
This mother was often seen separate from the rest of the pride with her cubs after this incident.
One morning we found the whole Ntsevu Pride and both the Ndzhenga Males lying in a clearing enjoying the warmth from the early morning sun’s rays. This mother and her two cubs were present although lying off in the distance suckling from her. There was a clear divide, but she watched the interactions between the other females and cubs from a distance. With the odd cub getting pulled over and wrestled with, swatted, and a gentle bite to the back of the head, all usual playful behaviours that you would expect to see amongst lions but nothing aggressive or malicious. There was one occasion where one lioness swatted a roaming cub from the larger group of cubs in the pride, which triggered the mother in the distance causing her to run in with an intense stare and posture, briefly leaving her two female cubs behind. Was she coming in to protect the cub from any potential harm?
There was no further “concern” and they proceeded to greet and groom each other and the cubs before settling down near to each other and resting with no hostility.
After some time a few of the cubs were heard fighting over the scraps of a carcass, this again alarmed the mother who ran towards the cubs softly contact-calling, as if she was trying to make them stop or call her cubs to the safety of being by her side?
Does this lioness just have a strong maternal instinct to protect her cubs and any cubs that sound in distress more than the other Ntsevu Lionesses? It has been interesting to see this mother’s behaviour and desire to protect her cubs. To me, she is doing exactly what she needs to do to raise her two cubs who too will be part of the Ntsevu Pride’s legendary stories one day. I admire this lioness’s dedication to motherhood but has certainly spurred on many questions and left a lot of them unanswered. Either way, the Ntsevu Pride is doing incredibly well and these cubs are growing and thriving. Hopefully, they all make it to adulthood and we can see this pride go from strength to strength.