The Southern Pride is a group of lions that we at Sabi Sabi cherish and we get to watch them as they move through life. We have witnessed males passing, new males moving in, adolescent males being forcefully moved out and of course the addition of new cubs. Unfortunately, when it comes to nature, wherever there is an addition, there must be a subtraction in order to maintain the perfect balance within this system called life.
It was no more than 11 months ago when the first new additions to the Southern Pride were found on a wildebeest kill. These two little scruff balls were about 4 weeks old and just being introduced to the pride for the first time. They were the first two of an eventual 12 cubs that were to be born into the pride over the next two months.
Being the first to be born, they were unfortunately the first to go. With the pride heavily split up due to the denning of 3 of the females now with their own cubs and the younger adolescent females not sure where to go as they were not yet welcome around the other cubs yet, the mother of the first two was not able to provide sufficiently and they both died of malnutrition. The mother actually ate one of her cubs to try and recuperate some of the energy that she had lost whilst trying to raise them.
This left 10 cubs and the 8 females in the pride. With the father of the cubs having been run out by the Kruger Males, this left the cubs with little protection against these new males and we fully expected more fatalities. The females however put up a good fight to keep their offspring alive and even sent the younger females off to distract the males (by mating with them) while the other females could move the cubs off to safety. On a 2 separate occasions the pride, including the cubs, were seen feeding with the males on a buffalo kill. The first occasion all survived and there was very little fuss and this left all the rangers wondering how this could have happened. Normally new males will kill all the offspring in the pride that are not theirs in order to bring the females back into oestrus so that they can then bring in cubs of their own.
On the second occasion though one of the cubs got too close to the males and was very quickly dispatched with a swat from the huge paw of the male. This left the number of cubs down to 9.
Depending on which textbook you read, the survival rate for lion cubs is about 30% to 40%. The last litter of cubs from the Southern Pride saw 9 out of 11 cubs survive to adulthood. This litter however is having a little less success.
In a matter of two days we have lost a further 2 cubs. After a very successful hunt where the pride pulled down two buffalo, the males again came to join the fray and in the morning we were surprised to see them all together again and without incident. After seeing the kill the night before and going to check up on them the next morning, my afternoon safari plan did not include the lions. Instead I ended up following the shocking events over the radio.
The first call came in that one of the cubs had been hit by one of the males but fortunately got away to safety before the male could finish off the job he had started. The relief I felt when I heard he was ok was incredible but it wasn’t even a half an hour later when the next call came in over the radio. A herd of elephants had walked into the same area as the lions and gone ballistic…they were chasing lions all over and in all the excitement one of the elephants managed to tusk a cub, crushing its pelvis and causing major internal injuries. The pride was then scattered all over the open plain.
One of the accounts from Selati Lodge ranger Alistair, said that after the elephants had left, the female who had bee the first to loose her cubs took up guard over the injured cub and would not let any of the lionesses, not even the mother, get close to cub. With fits of growls, snarls and mock charges she kept everyone at bay.
The next morning we found the pride again and were anxious to see what had transpired through the night. The males were still with the females but there were only 7 cubs remaining. The one clearly died from it wounds from the elephant and the other we could only assume was at the hands of the males.
It was only on the afternoon safari that we found the other cub but he was alone and a long way away from the pride. With no one to protect him he would surely not make it through the night. He was immediately made a negative loc, meaning that no one was allowed to go observe him, so as not to stress the cub any further or attract any extra attention to him. It has been 2 days since we last saw him and can only assume that he did not make it through the night. As sad as the story is, we have to remember that as cruel as nature may seem, it is this cruelty that maintains the beauty and magnificence that is Africa. Nature gives and takes as it needs to, leaving only the strongest to carry on and ensuring that everything remains in perfect balance!