In this post I have focused on the dominant pride of lions in Mashatu. In July, it is mid-winter in the southern hemisphere and the mornings are crisp and the sky clear with wisps of small cloud. The Mopani trees sparkle, displaying their gold, orange and green leaves, and the morning sky glows. We made our way down to the Mashatu river upstream from the Matabole river along which Eagle’s Nest camp is located.
“We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.”
~ Leonora Carrington
“Just before dawn I have the world all to myself.”
It takes about half an hour to get down to the rivers from our camp. On the Reserve’s frequency radio, our guide, Maifala picked up the location of the lion cubs. We took a short cut along the river bed through the croton grove. It is indescribably beautiful along this route with not a sound to be heard, save the odd call from a Long-tailed Starling or Hoopoe. The thick grove of trees mute much of the sound creating a serene peaceful environment and driving through the cool dappled light is magical.
“The mountains are my bones, the rivers my veins,
The forests are my thoughts and the the stars my dreams,
The ocean is my heart, its pounding is my pulse,
The songs of the heart write the music of my soul.”
With a coded message and following the tracks of previous vehicles from the night before, we found the lion cubs. As can be expected with normal youngsters they do not stay put and want to explore. Fortunately they started to wander out of the shadows into the sun.
There were two groups of cubs in this playgroup, one litter was very new. There were no adults and they had obviously had their sleep and now the cubs wanted to play in the sun.
The cubs were curious about this “big beige thing” with a few large “eyes” peering at them (our vehicle with large camera lenses). It (and we) did not make a sound and it/we were not aggressive.
The cubs considered their options. The larger cubs took the lead. The smaller cub on the right hand side was so small that its belly almost scraped along the ground because its legs were so short.
Curiosity got the better of the cat!
Curiosity satisfied, the cubs started to wander off to look for their mothers. This is just the time when real problems can begin…..
The older and larger cubs ventured off first. Presumably they could smell which way their mothers had gone because they walked off in a specific direction.
A bold advance at first, but every now and then stopped for a “help me” meow.
It does not matter what size you are, you are still a lion!!!
“Have the will of a tiger, the speed of a cheetah, and the heart of a lion.”
The time had come for one of the lionesses to check up on the nursery of cubs.
There must have been a smell or some tell-tale sign which this lioness was not happy with, which prompted her to start moving the cubs.
“I did not give you the gift of life. Life gave me the gift of you.”
~The Gottman Institute
I am always intrigued that the lioness’s jaw, which is powerful enough to suffocate a buffalo, can pick up and carry a very small cub for an extended distance without hurting it. I am not referring to a comfort carrier here. That cub intuitively knows to keep dead still and to be quiet.
We must have watched this lioness walk at least two hundred metres with this cub in her jaws.
She did not stop once to give herself or her cub a break. She would have done this for all her cubs which were too small to walk behind her for a reasonable distance.
We wondered where dad was and the next day we found him. This is one of the most handsome looking males I have ever seen and he has been around (in Mashatu) for over a year.
He was out patrolling his territory. The wind was blowing from his front and flattening his mane creating an even more powerful impression.
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way .”
He did not walk in a straight line but seemed to wander along a scent trail through the trees and bushes.
This was one very big and powerful male lion in the prime of his young life and he walked with little to fear from anything.
“Greatness is not measured by money and stature but by courage and heart.”
Once he walked into a croton grove he slowed down to take in what must have been many interesting scents. Nothing threatening but the equivalent of social media without a tablet or phone.
I have used this image to show the lithe, brute strength of this male lion.
“Truth does not sit in a cave and hide like a lie. It wanders around proudly and roars loudly like a lion.”
~ Suzy Kassem
We were not allowed to get off the vehicle because the male was close by but that paw print was bigger than my outstretched hand.
In true lion fashion this male was marking his territory with his urine. His urine is laced with chemicals and would give any “scent seeker” a clear sense of his size, age and vigour and a clear sign that this is his territory.
It is moments like these that I am very happy to be on a vehicle and not alone on foot.
“Strength arises from silence. Strength arises from being heard.
Know when to speak. Know when to say nothing.”
~Pamela Leigh Richards
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”
~Dr Martin Luther King Jnr
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.