Rains drops glistened on the windscreen as bold beams of light pierced the moody grey surrounding us, another fuse had blown and the wipers were off duty for now. My sight drifted through the mosaic and across the golden ocean as it swayed in unison, guided by mother natures breath. The air freshened our lungs and filled the four of us with belief, unsettled grazers cautiously gazed into the distance where danger lay, we paid attention and waited.
I clasped the radio, “She is still lion around.” The joke wasn’t received as well as I had expected, however my fellow adventurers did warm to the superior wit as the expedition went on. Brian, the guide extraordinaire at Open Skies Wilderness Expeditions, manned his binocs and quietly told me ‘she is up’ his tone spoke to the hours we had spent in pure tranquil bliss awaiting what we had hoped for, in the second vehicle Christian and Fanny had also noticed and pressed the far lookers over their eyes. A herd of oryx had wandered onto the open plain and quickly picked up on the movement in the distance, driven by curiosity they hoofed their way toward trouble, fortunately for them the queen was distracted. “CUBS!” Brian exclaimed and in that moment the peace was enhanced by excitement, at times we were able to make out an ear or a tail whilst the lioness awkwardly walked through the plain, tall wisps of grass added to the mood and drama of the scene but it was bothersome in this instance. Another lioness emerged from the shrubbery and followed her family, keeping a respectful distance.
Unsure of how big these cubs were we eagerly awaited their revelation as mom continued on course toward the waterhole. The springboks sneezed in alarm and the oryx drifted further away to safety. Brian and I smiled at each other as we noticed the happiness on his guests faces. We had a brief discussion about the radio collar around mom’s neck, Brian believed she must have been a well established female in the pride. At this point kudu, hartebeest and a lone wildebeest had joined in the alarm as the two power house sisters padded forward carelessly.
With my heart pounding in anticipation I leant my lens on the wing mirror and focused on her just as the family broke cover. Barreling around her paws were three tiny fumbling orange balls of fur. I raised my head and took a second to ensure I soaked in the moment, two magnificent central Kalahari lionesses with bundles of joy, mind blowing! Seeing cubs this small is such a rarity, to see them out here is an honour. Whilst carefully trying not to stand on the kids, mom made her way to the waters edge, as she got closer the cubs split up and bolted aimlessly, it was apparent that the stumpy legged felines had no real idea why they changed direction. The lioness had little reaction, she knew sis was there for back up, after pausing briefly to look into my lens (thanks for that) she sunk down and had a drink. The fear of missing out got the better of the cubs and they wobbled towards mom.
Having quenched her thirst, the Queen began to softly vocalise and gently paw at the cubs, it was clear she didn’t feel comfortable with them so close to the water. Coaxing them to safety meant herding cats so when in doubt, pick up. She leant down and moved her mouth around the cubs back until she was certain it was safe to lift the little one. Witnessing an animal with overwhelming strength and weaponry interact so tenderly with her offspring is surreal and a person can’t help but revel in the occasion. Having carried one cub to safety the siblings gave in to their FOMO once again and swiftly followed, solid plan mom.
However it was a short lived success as the cubs waddled to the southern side of the waterhole and decided to attempt another drink, mom took a few sips and moved back up the bank to keep a watchful eye on the oryx, fortunately the cubs kept close to her this time, doing their best to trip her up on the way. The horned horses were too boring and the cubs rolled back down the hill towards the water, the lioness abandoned her viewpoint and began to paw at the cubs again before picking up another cub and walking a fair distance from the water. It was time to go, as the family melted into the veld, the other lioness kept watch and never broke through the cover of the long grass.
Bigger droplets began to crash into the earth and the mood darkened further, that was our cue and the four of us left gratefully.