April was an eventful month at Kanana! The appearance of three lionesses accompanied by nine cubs of roughly eight months old caused much excitement for everyone! The following update and stunning photos by Aubrey Malekane, one of Kanana's experienced guides, describe the drama that unfolded in the weeks following their first appearance.
It was in mid-April that I was working in the Kanana concession with one of my fellow guides, not on a game drive, but to clear game drive tracks that had become very overgrown following the excellent rains we received this season. It was then that we saw them for the first time! The lions and the young cubs were amazing to watch, full of life and we spent some time observing them play. Of course, not expecting to be looking at animals I had no camera! That night they moved deep into the concession and spent the night on the edge of the camp itself. For the next few days they remained in close proximity to the camp and we were lucky to be able to spend time with them every day.
Several day later, in the early hours of the morning (when guests are sleeping and guides listen for that telltale roar in the darkness which will lead them to a perfect lion sighting with their guests!) that I heard the lions roaring and mentally planned the morning game drive. Immediately after breakfast we headed out of camp to find the lions. We stopped shortly after leaving camp to observe an elephant feeding quietly and as we sat there the peace was suddenly broken by a nearby lion roar.
A brief search in the general direction of the roars brought us upon one of the cubs crossing the track and disappearing quickly into the grass. At first I thought the pride may be hunting, but the cub's behavior made me suspect all was not well. Communicating my concerns to the guests, we moved in the direction from where the cub had come to investigate further. It was then that I saw a male lion moving through the grass and sniffing around. Clearly he was searching for the cub we had just seen and this did not bode well for the females or the cubs. What had happened to the other youngsters? Where were the adult females? Where were the fathers of the cubs? While I considered these thoughts an adult female appeared briefly in front of us before moving away into the undergrowth.
Naturally everyone on the vehicle was quite anxious for the wellbeing of the lions, and I decided to head towards the location that the initial roars had come from that morning. At the concession boundary, we met with guides from the neighboring concession area. They had seen three of the cubs on their own that morning, and informed us that two male lions were attempting to take over the pridal area and had already driven off the resident pride males. Following the successful ousting of the resident males, they were now attempting to track down and kill the cubs. Lions carry out infanticide, it is believed, in order to allow them to immediately breed with the pride's females, thus ensuring that their own genes survive and not those of their competitors. Continuing our game drive, we were fortunate enough to come across three of the cubs hiding under a bush, and a while later one of the adult females. The pride had clearly been scattered by the two invading males and the cubs' survival hung in the balance.
Later that afternoon I decided to go back and check on the three cubs. They were still alone hiding under the bush, but unfortunately no females were to be seen. The good news at least, was that the two male lions appeared to have left the immediate area. Another guide later reported that he had found another cub, which they followed and which eventually managed to join up with the other three. Young lions, without the protection of adults are threatened by almost all predators, especially jackals and hyena, as well as dehydration and starvation. If they were not reunited with the females soon, they would not last long alone.
Over the next few days, the three lionesses were spotted hunting with five of the cubs in tow. All appeared in good health, though of course we were all wondered about the fate of the remaining four cubs.
A week after the initial devastating appearance of the two males, a morning game drive found the pride feeding on a warthog but one of the lionesses was missing. Some tracking led us to find her wandering alone, in the vicinity of the area in which the four cubs were last seen. Could it be that she was searching for the cubs? Later that afternoon when I returned, the female had returned to the pride with a single cub. Three remain missing however, and is likely that they have not survived. Young lions have a surprisingly low survival rate so the survival of as many as six of the cubs is very positive. Perhaps we shall be surprised though and the remaining cubs will appear in the next few weeks.