I was in Ndutu for five days, guiding my Oryx Photography clients through Northern Tanzania. We’d found the Marsh Pride on our first day and spent a great deal of time with the lions every day afterwards. On this particular day, one little feisty lion cub simply stole the show.
When we arrived at the scene, all was quiet. It had been a stiflingly hot afternoon and the lions were sleeping in the shade of two acacia trees. The skies grew increasingly darker with that familiar gun-metal hue. You could smell the moisture in the air. Rain was imminent.
The first pride members to wake were the two youngest cubs, just a couple of months old. One lion cub was attempting to suckle from its mother, who was apparently in a very bad mood. As the cub pawed at her mother’s underside, the lioness snarled loudly and abruptly walked away. The lioness came to lay beside one of her sisters… And her cubs promptly followed.
Fully awake, the young lion cubs (one male, one female) started to play and jump on the other pride members, before managing to deftly suckle a little more milk. The older siblings soon awoke and stomped all over the suckling pair. The rain began to fall and the pride gradually awoke. The grown-ups licked-off the droplets of rain and groomed each other, but the youngsters began to play and test-out their developing hunting skills.
Within the pride, there were three older cubs, each about a year old. These bruisers started chasing around the bushes and acacia trees, tap-tackling and bundling on top of each other. Meanwhile, our young, feisty female lion cub attacked a small plant, occasionally looking around to see if anybody could see how tough she was. None of the others noticed.
She gazed at the older cubs, transfixed by their antics. Scampering over, our little lion cub leapt and landed square on the back of an older cub and immediately sunk her teeth in! Slightly aggravated, the older cub flipped over and started pawing her about. The rain was falling hard and the older cubs seemed to switch moods and came together to rub the little cub into the dirt.
Eventually she managed to break away. She ran to our vehicle and stared. Perhaps we were just a little too big. Then she spotted a sibling her own size and gave chase. Perhaps feeling that they had not made the hierarchy clear, the big cubs then gave chase and drove her up a nearby acacia tree. She climbed quickly to the first branch as the older cubs laid siege under the tree, joined by the other young cub.
After a few minutes, the feisty female made a break for freedom, chased into the open where a large cub grabbed her by the tail and pinned her down. Conceding defeat was just not on the agenda, so the young female wriggled free, turned around, sat down facing her aggressor and repeatedly batted him in the face! Now looking really unsure of the young upstart, the older cub turned away and chased down his brother and had a major scrap with him instead. The victorious little lion cub trotted over to her mother for a celebratory suckle… which was greeted with a severe reprimand!