The first lioness we got to know was a lioness who appeared to be on her own. This is not a natural characteristic for lionesses, they are social characters and usually gather in prides which are formed by lionesses and young cubs of varying ages. So this lioness was acting out of character. We named her Sicilia. In November last year Sicilia disappeared from hanging around camp, but guide Lesh found her tucked into a palm island where she had given birth. The age and number of cubs was not known at that stage because it is customary for lionesses to peel off and give birth on their own and keep their cubs hidden from the pride, from other predators, and out of sight until they are old enough to be reintegrated into the pride.
We found out that Sicilia had five cubs but once she was no longer lactating, she moved with her five cubs far off towards the west of Xigera. The reason for that may have been because of the presence of the 12-lion pride from the Nxabega side, or southern side of our concession.
THE LIONS FROM NXABEGA
Within this pride there are four lionesses and eight cubs. Of the eight cubs, five or six are male and two or three are female – it is still a bit difficult to sex them at this stage. Within this pride, two stories have emerged. The first one is that one of the lionesses was in fact pregnant and just before term she came into camp and hid under the foreman’s house until she was ready to give birth, and then she peeled off to find a suitable island to tuck into and give birth. We don’t know how many cubs yet, and she is still lactating. She joins the pride from time to time if they have made a kill, which they do regularly now because there are a lot of buffalo around. In that case she will come and feed and then go back to her hiding place.
The second story is that of the male cubs within the pride, one cub got himself lost. He must have wandered off somewhere or lagged behind, or gone exploring and not taken note of time or what was going on with the rest of the pride. Somehow, he got separated. For about 24 hours he hung timidly around camp on the periphery: very skittish and scampering around, clearly very distressed. As he circled around the greater footprint of camp, he was meowing but like a grunt or cough almost, completely ineffectual and almost inaudible, certainly to the rest of the pride who were far away. The moon was waxing in its last stretch before showing off full glory and this distressed cub whimpered the whole night.
A ROAR AT DAWN
But before sunrise, the whimper became a sound that is associated with a lion. A deep roar that reverberated in the dawn. It was impossible to know that it was emanating from the same distressed pre-sub-adult lion. He hung around the workshop area until sunrise proper and then disappeared.
Every day, our guide (either Lesh or Genius) does the rounds to check the site before the work teams report for duty at 07h00. It is in this time that the story of the previous night’s wildlife activities reveal themselves in tracks in the sand. Just before he concluded the check he saw the cub reunited with the pride. They hung close to camp with the cubs playing on a termite mound.
However, at about 9.30am that morning, one lioness and a male cub appeared in the meeting area on the western island at the start of the bridge. It was this action that brought the entire workforce to a standstill with everyone jumping up onto the scaffolding and steel bases to get off the ground. The lioness and cub walked onto the bridge and then she stopped and sat down. Her cub was more skittish. She waited patiently and then she approached our side of the camp island. She walked the length of the bridge and then jumped off and padded over towards the main guest area, stopped in front of a tree, settled down, licked her paws and waited for the cub to find his new-found adultness and join her. Which he did. At that point, mother and cub walked through the main camp out onto the floodplain on the eastern side of camp where they settled for the day. The rest of the pride stayed away out mostly towards the south western side.
REUNITED AT TWILIGHT
In the evening, after a day of reconnecting and some counselling between mother and cub, she decided it was time to rejoin the pride. She climbed a tree and looked out towards the southwest. She stayed there for a while. This is also quite uncharacteristic, although not unheard of. Lions are much bigger than leopards and so they are clumsier when climbing trees, and it shows. She appeared to have gotten herself wedged between a branch, a twig and a hard place. While she was surveying the landscape, her eager cub made several unsuccessful attempts at trying to climb up the tree. As the light matured to an indigo and purple through which the starlight started to dimly show, the lioness very ungracefully dismounted. She and her cub then walked straight past us (we were on the deck of our temporary office/kitchen area), and they disappeared into the twilight, off to rejoin the rest of the pride.