That once in a life time moment

Sabi Sand · February 2019
By Ross Couper
Field Guide, Content Provider

After guiding for several years, there is wish list that starts to grow on what you would like to see or experience whilst being in the wild on a daily basis. I am privileged to have the opportunity to work daily in the bush, whether its sharing my love and passion for the bushveld with guests or taking a leisurely walking trail on my own. In my capacity of being the resident photographer for Singita, it has afforded many opportunities. The safari wish list is endless, whether it is adding to a bird list, seeing an elephant up close or a nocturnal creature like a honey badger – there is a thrill of ticking sightings off the list.

I have always stood by ‘if you are not looking for it, you will be surprised with what you find’. Sometimes you will be surprised how much you miss if you are focused on ticking off that list of must see opportunities.

I recently discovered that I was always looking too hard for typical photographic opportunities and sometimes, a little patience, perseverance and a lot of luck are the perfect combination. Without realizing that, it is not necessary something that you look for.

We were aware of one of the Mhangene lionesses having a new litter of cubs which had been reported two weeks prior to this sighting. We had begun noticing that her tracks were returning frequently to the same location in a drainage line near Castleton. The rest of the pride was also viewed frequently in the area. It was inevitable that eventually we would see her with the cubs, but would she be introducing them to the rest of the pride? After scanning the thick bush with binoculars, we had noticed a single larger cub lying on a sandy embankment. The cub was not moving at all and there was no evidence of other pride members. We decide to move closer to have a better look. We stopped the vehicle a short distance from the cub which by then had moved into a thicket out of sight. Whilst sitting listening to the sounds around us, we suddenly heard a few small cries within a few feet of our vehicle.

Straining our eyes to see where it was coming from, we knew exactly that those distinct cries were from very small lion cubs. We eventually could see in a very thick bush the outline of a lioness lying in the long grass very well concealed with her colouring amongst the thickets. Focusing past all of the branches we could see the movement of the lion cubs. We elected to moved away from the area now knowing that we accidently found the lionesses with the young cubs. As we moved back to the road, we could hear the rest of the pride vocalising on the opposite bank. We moved around to the opposite embankment and found a single larger cub, three lionesses and a single male lion. It was evident that the male lion was annoyed by a young Mhangene lioness that was attempting to re-join the pride. This was a strange but this could be a different story that I will follow up with later in the year.

Whilst watching the behaviour between lions, a single lioness emerged from the drainage with a small cub gently griped between her large canine teeth. Instinctively, as soon as the cub was lifted, it stopped crying and became very still. It did not take much for the clicking repeatedly of our cameras shutters to occur. It was a dreamy moment that felt like it was in slow motion when it occurred. The lioness moved the cub to an alternative den-site further down the drainage. Strangely enough the cubs were too young to be interacting with the remaining pride members, however they watched as she moved through the bush. Neither of the lions dared to follow her or show any signs of interest as this would create serious confrontation amongst the lions. We waited until the lioness was out of sight before moving away from the area as to allow her to continue to move the remaining cubs. Excitement was an understatement to what we experienced.

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