For the past few months we have suspected that one of the central pride lionesses had cubs. She is most commonly seen with two other females and we started seeing these two females without her; this change in behaviour is often a sign that a lioness is denning. To support our suspicions, about two months ago the female in question appeared to be lactating. What fantastic news! Our next question was. Where was she hiding the cubs?
Last week a game drive spotted the female with a tiny cub in the middle of the road! Mum and cub stuck around long enough for a photograph and then disappeared into the thick bush.
From then on I made an effort to drive in this area in the hope of seeing the cub for myself. I often found tracks of a lone lioness. Then one morning last week I got lucky! A herd of wildebeest were snorting and looking in one direction on the open plains. For the keen interpreter of the African bush this is a tell tale indication of the presence of a lion or leopard in the area. A quick glance through the binoculars confirmed my suspicions; a lioness lying in the long grass. But wait, there was also a cub!
We approached extremely slowly in the vehicle and stopped about 100m away. This was only the second time this cub had seen a vehicle in it’s short life and we were unsure as to how it would react. Mum was very relaxed and over the course of an hour and a half we approached to about 30m. Neither cub nor mum minded our presence. We followed them to a dead wildebeest – interestingly neither one paid the free breakfast any attention. It was a real treat to watch the interaction between the lioness and her small cub. The cub was very playful and would often wander off exploring, despite the lionesses soft calls to come back. It was also very curious about the vehicle and watched us from the safety of mum’s shoulder.
In the afternoon I returned to the dead wildebeest and found a male lion flat on his side. There was no sign of the lioness or her cub. Alarm bells rang in my head. Male lions are renowned for killing cubs that are not theirs. What interactions had I missed during the middle of the day? I spent over half an hour looking for signs of the lioness to no avail. Then, just as I was giving up hope of finding her, she appeared in front of me with the little one in tow!
She led the cub back towards the kill and the resting male. Interestingly, when she got close she flicked her tail twice and the male got up and walked away.
He seemed to give her a 30m berth and showed no interest in approaching her or the cub. This male is one of three in a coalition. There is a good chance that he is, or thinks he is, the father.
The mother began to feed on the carcass. The cub, on the other hand, thought the poor dead wildebeest was a bouncy castle and proceeded to jump on and off it and play with the long hair on it’s chin. To get attention the cub continuously jumped on it’s mum’s face (much to her annoyance!).
Key facts about lion cubs:
The gestation period is only 95-110 days
Cubs are born with their eyes closed and weigh between one and two kilograms
Lions often give birth to between 1-4 cubs.
Generally lionesses have synchronised oestrus cycles so give birth to cubs at the same time and will help each other to raise cubs
Unguarded cubs may fall prey to other predators