It is very hard NOT to anthropomorphize an animal when it looks THIS cute. The final game drive of my stay at Klaserie Sands River Camp was rather wet as it had begun to drizzle lightly shortly after we left the camp. However, Nerise, our guide, had heard about these cubs and the accompanying females via the radio and decided that we should head out in that direction. We found this family and the rain held off long enough for us to spend time with them as they entertained both themselves and us with their antics. Both of the females kept a wary eye on the youngsters but chose not to get involved in their games. To cubs of this age everything is fair game and if it can be chewed or chased, so much the better.
“OOOOOOUCH”! Don’t do that seems to be what the recipient of the paw in the face seems to be saying. This rough and tumble play is what prepares the youngsters for the fighting that they will be required to do in later life. Either for food, mating rights or territory.
Fact: Fights between adult males can be terrifying to watch and the sounds emanating from them as they do battle will never be forgotten. One such pride that seemed to specialize in killing other males were The Mapogo Lions that ruled Northern Kruger and the Sabi Sands. They claimed more territory than any other pride either before or since their demise and killed nearly 100 other lions during their reign, which ended with the death of Mr T in 2012. Although the pride has gone, their genes live on in other lions in the area. But for now, at least, their deadly reign has ended.
“Have you hugged a tree today”? This look is almost disconcertingly intense. The cubs are very curious but are used to the vehicles and as a result, are relaxed in the presence of the guests. Look at the size of the paws! They might look large, but this youngster will eventually grow ‘into’ them. You can see the back on one of the large females in the background.
“Now that I have hugged it, I can turn it into a scratching post”. The rest of the siblings join in to see what all the fuss is about.
It is very difficult to look into these eyes knowing the hardship that lies ahead for this young cub. They are weaned at six months, but they start to eat meat at three months. Should a new male take over the pride, the cubs are usually always killed so that the new male can sire his own progeny.
“I am the King of all that I survey or I might be one day”! The mortality rate for cubs in the Kruger National Park is 50%, with the majority of the deaths being attributed to being killed by other males when they take over a pride. The figure is worse for males, where their chance of surviving even their first year is 1 in 5.
Lion cubs start to walk at 10-15 days. Could you imagine if a human child could do that? Parents would be chasing their toddlers from an early age.(Most human babies take their first steps between 9-12 months)
Males reach sexual maturity at around 3 years and as a result, are driven out of the pride. These males will be forced to find their own territory and females, either alone or in coalitions. The latter means that they can hunt bigger game, they can look after each other and control larger territory. That being said, the life of a dominant male is fraught with danger, both from within his pride(he might be challenged by a younger male) or by outsider males who wish to dethrone him and claim his territory and the females.
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