September 2017 was a significant month for Shamwari. New life was discovered in the form of little lion cubs from one of the older northern lionesses. Although it is not uncommon on Shamwari to see lion cubs. This is the first litter of cubs sired by the new dominant coalition of two brothers in the North. Ranger Aymar Heyns provides some insight into the Northern pride at Shamwari Game Reserve along with some fantastic pictures of the pride’s new members.
The male lions introduced to the northern section of the reserve a year ago had a tough start. Foreign territory and unknown competition. They found themselves in an area established by the Southern male as a large section of his territory. They had no intention of leaving. After a few displays and altercations between the coalition (two brothers) and the single southern male, it seemed a boundary fell into place. Without any cubs or pregnant females in the North, the Southern male decided it was not worth the fight against the younger (yet large) rivals. He retreated and decided to focus his efforts on the prides in the South.
The Northern coalition had gained a large area with sufficient species of prey. More importantly, they had taken over a territory which was home to the northern lionesses. Soon after they had established themselves the females came into oestrus. Initial mating was speculative. Fertile females were mating without falling pregnant. The possibility of a “false mating” was thought to be at play. The females may have doubted the stability of the new coalition’s dominance and, not wanting to have wasted time and energy, they waited. As it became clear the males were well established, the older female came into a true oestrus. Later showing clear signs of pregnancy and in middle August 2017, she was lactating.
The cubs were discovered mid-September near Lobengula Lodge in the North by Ranger Sihle. Mere glimpses were seen over the coming days until a proper sighting was had on Excelsior Ridge near the gazebo. At an estimated age of 6 to 8 weeks, their mother felt comfortable enough to introduce the cubs to the other two females of her pride. The coalition of two was present and in turn we as humble observers were allowed to view from a respectable distance. The cubs were confident and playful around their mother. As we sat photographing them, it dawned on me that this was the introduction of new blood and new genes. The key to the species survival.
Since their discovery, the cubs have been seen regularly. Healthy, strong and persistent when it comes to whining for food from their mother (how could she say no). It has been a journey viewing them over the last two months. A privilege for guests and rangers alike. Some of whom have travelled from all parts of the reserve to view them. The bumpy ride is always worth it.
As rangers, we take pride in viewing these animals throughout the different stages of their lives. We are in no way connected to these animals. We aim and strive to have no impact on their lives at all. However, we are privileged enough to experience the different interactions they may encounter. These cubs will be no different.
Their mother’s initial challenge has passed. She will have many still to face and plentiful beautiful moments with them. If we are ever so lucky we might just be there to witness them.