What a manic last few weeks! The Sabi Sands has been packed and the bush is pumping.
The chill of winter has an icy grip over the wilderness and it’s all but dried out, the trees are losing their leaves and the herbivores are going hungry. This all bodes very well for new additions to the Southern Pride, they have been enjoying the bounty of buffalo that are moving on and off of the reserve.
Over the last two weeks the lions have managed to pull down four buffalo and feast to their hearts content. After feeding on the first of the four, they sat down to digest their meal at a waterhole about 150 metres from the kill when another buffalo bull walked straight into the pride, offering itself up as another hearty meal.
Two of the cubs joined the feasts but the other cubs are still being hidden away in their den sites for the moment. I’m sure they will be brought out to meet the rest of the pride within the next few weeks.
Some of the most outstanding moments that I’ve experienced with the cubs have been after the first two buffalo kills. On the first occasion we arrived at the kill towards the end of a game drive, all of the vehicles had left and we were permitted absolute solitude with the pride. The cubs looked fat and round with bellies full of nutritious buffalo meat, you could see they were in high spirits as they ran around tackling one another before mom dragged them off for a drink. We watched the little ones line up next to their mom and lap up water, their reflections danced across the dam as their tongues sent ripples through the water. Slowly the cubs moved around to explore the waters edge, completely oblivious to the possibility of a crocodile lurking in the shallows. Fortunately this time, there was no threat…
As the mom began making tracks back towards the rest of the pride she decided to give one of her little ones a lift, gently wedging the cub between her deadly jaws. The little one went limp and it almost looked as if she were carrying a dead body. The other cub bounded along behind and yelped as if to say, ‘what about me mom?’
With two buffalo demolished in a speedy succession, and the Kruger males rippling with pride after proving their ability as fathers, the older females fell into oestrus and love filled the air. The women growled at the men, and the men squealed submissively as the sound of lions mating filled the cold air. The guests couldn’t believe their luck to see such interaction at close quarters, all three of the females mated with the two males – even the oldest one with the floppy ear.
One night, on our way back from a bush braai (aka a barbeque in the bush) under the starry African sky, we stopped to watch a pair mating. We sat to watch the interaction and the entire pride decided to join us, one of the females approached and behind her waddled her two, now seven-week-old cubs. We killed the lights and one of the females started to roar; in the pitch black, with the stars sparkling overhead, sixteen lions including the tiny cubs chorused together with roars. What a sound! Our chests rattled as the roaring resounded across the bush. When the male stopped roaring the silence was deafening, our hearts raced as adrenalin pumped through our bodies, my guests sat silently in the dark wondering if the lions were trying to chase us away but too afraid to ask. When we left I told them that the show of roars was to reinforce their dominance over the territory, and to let all the other lions know not to come anywhere near.
It is scary to think that the pride is now twenty two strong, plus the potential addition of new cubs within the next four months from those three females we witnessed mating. This pride is going to be a force to be reckoned with, and the biggest pride in the Sabi Sands looks to be invincible at the moment.