Meeting your offspring for the first time can be quite an event – even if you are a lion, as our ranger Frances Hannah explains.
We found the three big brothers slumped lazily by the dam. It was early morning and the air was still so I didn’t expect much from these lazy lumps of fur. But then one brother stood up suddenly and made a beeline for the river. I followed at a distance thinking he’d prefer to lie in the soft sand of the dry river as opposed to the hard dam wall where his brothers had hogged all the shade. Behind me the other two brothers had also become interested and were slowly bringing up the rear. I reverses off the road slightly to make way and we saw their interest was in the sandy coloured female running down the sloping hill towards us!
She was charged with attitude and gave her first suitor a few paws around the head – there was a bit of a scuffle with snarls and flying tails! Then a hot pursuit as the lioness trotted off up the road behind us with an eager male lion behind her. The brother further up the road in front of us didn’t seem perturbed as he continued climbing up the slope. A second lioness suddenly emerged from the long grass to meet the curious male. She guided him half way down the slope in perfect view for our cruiser. She urinated on a patch of grass in front of him and left him to be engrossed with her scent. But where had the lioness darted off to? Did she have a kill? Or something better!!??
The grass was long and I could just make out the lionesses figure as her honeyed colour melted into the background, but then my guests in the back began to get excited in a hushed yet determined whisper they gasped “here she comes, with some small ones!”
There they were: the 10 week old lion cubs that were the hottest property in the park! The first cubs of our lions, and my very first sighting of them!
Mom gingerly nudged the brown speckled, blue eyed cubs closer towards ‘potential dad no1’. My heart was racing considering how the male would react, would he attack, defend, or destroy? He was hovered over the females urine patch, still besotted with the smell, when suddenly he looked up and was met with a small bundle of fur that was seated at his paws staring into his large eyes. The male looked startled and bent down towards the cub with a determined stance. We all held our breath for this was the moment of truth. The big male lion sniffed the cub’s head, then threw back his head and gave out amore of a grunt than a roar. He turned on his back legs and fled the meeting as if dealing with a bad smell. “Daddy” scampered away, seemingly intimidated by the new kids on the block!