We awoke to another sunny blue sky day in the Mara Triangle. Some of our group members had missed the leopard on the previous day while on a balloon ride, and everyone was in agreement that we should return to the area of the Maji Muchafa lugga where we had seen the massive male leopard. (Maji Muchafa means “dirty water” and lugga is a seasonal waterway or dry riverbed.)
The conservancy ranger was just leaving as we arrived in that area, and we knew that meant the leopard had found another location for the day.. Nevertheless, we drove around a bit looking, and it was very fortunate that we did. Lorna soon had her binoculars out and drove us to an area of thick scrub near the lugga. This time it was a lone lioness with cubs!
A female lion leaves the pride to give birth and keeps her cubs hidden for the first several weeks to protect them. The young are born with their eyes closed and do not open them for the first few days. Weighing only 3 pounds at birth, they weigh about 9 pounds at 1 month. Once they are able to move around and follow, the mother changes the den site every 3 to four days to avoid detection by predators. Luckily for us, we had arrived on a moving day.
The young family eventually emerged in the sunlight, tentatively following mama, one by one. disappearing in the tall grass at times. At about four weeks old, the cubs were alert and curious and eager to explore.
But the area of the lugga posed other obstacles for the cubs. Narrow water-filled ditches were easily crossed with one step by the mother, but it was impossible for the stubby one-month old legs of the youngsters. The first bold cub to try to jump was soon squalling and wet, but quickly rescued by mama.
The other two were reluctant to try, but did not want to be left behind.
To get to a new home with sufficient cover, the “crossing” would need to be completed. Mama lion waited patiently and encouraged, then rescued each of the other two cubs as they leaped and promptly sank into the muddy ditch.
All three continued to loudly voice their unhappiness with this new experience, but they were safe and the sun would soon warm and dry their dripping fur.