Spring 2020 | Kerry-Lee Roberg

Searching for lion cubs

I had been guiding almost every day for over five years, but had never come across tiny lion cubs before. One fine day in October, I woke up feeling expectant that this was the day I was finally going to discover the litter of lion cubs I’d been waiting to see for so long!

A few months into lockdown the guiding team discovered tracks that could only have belonged to incredibly young lions. Unfortunately, due to the nature of our duties at the time, we could not follow up and spend time tracking the youngsters. It was another four months or so before we saw the three lion cubs for the first time. They were already fierce, capable four-month-old lions and watching as they interacted with the other pride members and chased Namaqua doves around the waterhole was a special sight.

Fast-forward a few weeks and I found myself in the driver’s seat one morning with some of my first post-lockdown guests.  The guests had requested to spend time with lion cubs, should we be lucky enough to find them, and so I was thrilled to be able to report that we were heading out in search of the newest additions to the South pride. Unbeknown to my guests I had been out twice with other guides in the previous weeks in search of the little cubs, but they had obviously been moved by the mother as there was no sign of life around the den site.

We headed out just after first light and after about 25 minutes my tracker, Sim, picked up tracks of a single lioness a little distance from the old den site. We combed the area to double check for any other useful bits of information – the signs left in the wild by animals. Luckily, there had been some rain the night before, which really helped with the tracking. It was very evident that the tracks were fresher than the rain that had fallen on the sand. Fresh tracks get guides and trackers very excited!

We must have followed the tracks for close to an hour and, just as hope seemed to be dwindling, we saw it – a lioness, roughly 50 metres in front of us! She moved away from a shepherd’s tree and disappeared behind a thicket, so we approached cautiously and discovered a few other South pride members. I cut the engine and we sat in silence until we heard it. From behind a dense blackthorn thicket came the delicate squeaks of what could only be very tiny lion cubs!

My instinct was to shout ‘Cubs! Cubs! We found them!’ but I managed to restrain myself, despite my palpable excitement. It was a moment I had been waiting for, and it was every bit as incredible as I had imagined. Three tiny eight-week-old cubs were accompanied by the mother and three or four other female pride members – the first time anyone had seen the cubs integrated into the pride. The pride eventually moved a short distance through an open area before coming to rest, at which point we watched in awe as the mother proceeded to groom her little ones. Amusingly, they were quite vocal about this. We left the lions resting under a large shepherd’s tree and were fortunate to relocate them a day or two later. Now we can watch these youngsters grow and see the expanding South pride go from strength to strength.

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