Text by James Moodie | Video by Grant Roodt
For the past several weeks, the three remaining lionesses of the Eyrefield Pride, along with the Matshapiri Pride (2 males and one lioness), have frequented the area of the Sand River, known as Confluence Crossing. The stretch of river between this crossing and West Street bridge have been a safe holding, providing an abundance of wildlife who constantly come to the river in the intense ±40 degree temperatures, to quench their much needed thirst. Of these animals the main ones that tend to arrive are the large herds of Cape buffalo, sometimes numbering up to 700 at a time, and mostly converge at the Bridge itself. Several weeks back, the pride and two males killed at least five buffalo in as many days (three in one day) leaving them very well fed and lethargic, particularly one of the lionesses who was showing signs of pregnancy. The pride then started to move further South, towards the Tamboti Thickets opposite Rattray’s Camp, and it was there that we presumed the lioness would give birth in the dense reed thickets on the bank of the Sand River, as she was seen on several occasions patrolling the roads in that area. Unfortunately, we were wrong.
On the morning of 19 October, Bens Marimane radioed in tracks of a single lioness moving both North and sSouth over the river crossing known as Donald’s Crossing. The tracks looked quite fresh in the mud after the intense rain the previous day. The crossing goes through the Matshapiri River, no more than 500m away from its confluence with the Sand River (Confluence Crossing) and provides a steep tall ridge on the Western Bank (protection from unwanted visitors), as well as a slight open area to its east, allowing for good visibility for any approaching danger to the new cubs. Bens slowly started to follow the tracks first North, and then South until he saw the tracks moving into a small thicket of a fallen down Jackalberry tree. For ten long minutes all rangers in the reserve waited for Bens to give the call that a lioness was found, sadly that call didn’t come. Instead he called in something far more exciting, the moment all have been waiting for quite some time… two very young lion cubs!
The excitement was palpable and I could almost feel it throughout the ranging team. Although the area was left immediately due to the absence of the mother, the guests felt it too.
When a predator den site is discovered, there are many rules and regulations to which we need to strictly adhere, as the cubs/pups at that stage, are very nervous having been thrust into a world of large and loud Land Rovers. With the mother present they feel more comfortable, and only one vehicle is allowed to approach until such time when the cubs feel comfortable enough that they will not take note of them. If the mother is present, only one vehicle can view them, and only for a short period before leaving the sighting and allowing another to arrive, all after a brief period of peace. It is because of our methods that when the animals reach maturity, they pay little or no attention to these alien like creatures that they have seen throughout their lives and who have never threatened their safety.
Rolling around as two small balls of fluff, with no control over their limbs and their eyes still part-closed indicates that these two cubs are less than a week old, closer to three or four days. Let’s hope that their fathers, the two new Matshapiri Males, stay around to protect their new offspring, and strengthen the once powerful Eyrefield pride.