Sabi Sabi yesterday, today, tomorrow

the return of the 7th cub…

by Calvin Kotze on May 18, 2012

Receiving new guests yesterday, this would be our first morning out in Africa together, not even I knew what emotions today would bring.

 After having dinner under the stars and listening to the continuous roaring of the lions throughout the cool night, we all woke up hoping that today we would get to see these magnificent predators. We left Bush Lodge hoping to find tracks of either the Southern Pride or of the Kruger males but instead, we found tracks of a single female which we continued to follow, observing her every step and interpreting her behaviour thoughout the evening. We followed her tracks for quite some time until the point where she stopped for a drink of life’s most precious gift, water… After showing my guests where she had drank, we could not find any more tracks and it seemed that they disappeared. Eager to find them again we continued searching, only to stumble across two more of the Big 5, but sadly no more tracks…

 Whilst spending time with a large herd of buffalo I heard one of my fellow rangers say that he had found the tracks of the Southern Pride and it wasn’t long after that when I heard him say, “I have found the pride of lions.” Immediately I smiled, knowing that I could now show my guests exactly what we were looking for… Whilst making my way to the pride I heard an update stating that there were 7 cubs with the pride. This was the turning point for me as I was now excited to see how he was doing and was hoping to see the pride happy to be united again.

 My guests were still completely unaware that the lions had been found. We started approaching them and I got sight of the one females and was so excited to see them that I shouted, “lions!” The excitement in my guest’s voices was amazing, “Where? Really? Wow! I can’t believe it!” were just a few of the words that were mentioned…

 I can honestly say that this is by far one of the most rewarding jobs anyone could ever have. Imagine being able to make a person’s life-long dream come true by showing them arguably thee most beautiful country in the world, a country where the animals are still wild, a country where every sunrise and sunset is a time to reflect on your life, and a country that some how, even though you weren’t born here, makes you feel that you have found your home and you never want to leave…

 We made our way closer to the lions only to find them scattered across an open area. The excitement was high, and the smiles on my guest’s faces said it all… I sat quietly for quite some time giving my guests a chance to appreciate what we were seeing, as the warmth of the morning sun heated our bodies, I started to tell my guests a little bit about this pride and pointed out to them that the one cub had been missing for quite some time. We all counted them together and noticed that one cub was quite a distance away from the rest of them but thought nothing of it. We spent the next 30 minutes watching various behavior, yawning, grooming and social bonding through touch as all the females gathered into a closer nit group around the cubs.

 I noticed that the 7th cub had stood up and started walking towards the pride. Immediately I saw that something was wrong, this young male was not in a good condition and the way he was walking clearly indicated that he was not himself. His eyes told a cold story and looking into them made me fear the worst, for some reason he had a very sad energy coming from him and it was felt by all that were there.

Southern pride lion cub

With his head held low and his eyes drooping he slowly limped towards the pride, he veered off and went and sat behind our vehicle keeping his distance from the pride, I found this very strange as lions are sociable cats and form very tight bonds, but yet none of them seemed to care about this young cub. We sat discussing what could potentially be wrong with him, we had gone from complete excitement and happiness to sadness in a matter of minutes and one could not help but to feel sorry for this young male cub. No one could have expected what was about to happen next… With sadness still in our hearts, fearing this young lion would not make it much longer, he stood up and started approaching the pride again, crouched and head still lowered he walked behind a bush which separated him from the pride, inside I could feel all he wanted was the love and affection of his family again, it was almost as if he just needed that and everything would have been fine, but he had taken one step too close.

Southern Pride lion cub at sabi sabi

The female that was sleeping closest to him snarled and immediately stood up only to cause a chain reaction as the whole pride stood up and started snarling intensely. The two closest females to him growled loudly and started charging at him through the bush that separated them from him. There was pure anger and all the signs of a real charge were present.

Southern pride females at sabi sabi private game reserve

I knew this was not going to end well as the two females proceeded to attack this cub. The cries of distress hollowed from the young lions mouth but they were drowned by the anger that was being heard from the rest of the pride as they attacked him.

Southern pride at Sabi Sabi private game reserve

Trying to get away, he stumbled and left only to find himself surrounded by the pride who also started to attack him.

Southern Pride at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve

The sounds were spine chilling and the anger and power of these cats were felt by everyone, some guests couldn’t watch as they thought that this cub was about to die.

Southern Pride while on safari game drive at Sabi Sabi

It felt so inhumane – this is one of their own cubs – why are they doing this? He just wants love? Questions were rushing though my mind, as I watched this pride of lions continuously attack their own son. Speechless and emotional I watched the pride walk away leaving this little cub lying there, the extent of his injures unknown, also unknown was if he was alive or not. After a few minutes the cub struggled to stand up and injured much worse than before, made his way to a shady tree a few meters away. I now knew why he limped towards the pride and kept his distance at first and I couldn’t help but think of what this poor cub must have been through in the last 24 hours, not only physically but emotionally too. The pride walked a few hundred meters away and stopped to look back as if to make sure he is not following them, it was a cold, distant look, like they never cared.

Lions at sabi sabi

I turned to look into his eyes one more time before leaving and I could now see the story that they told, it was a story of pain and suffering, a story of determination and heartache, a story of fear and loneliness but most of all it was a story of a broken bond.

Southern Pride lion cub at Sabi Sabi

by: Calvin Kotze   (Bush Lodge ranger)

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

deborah rose May 18, 2012 at 4:28 am

Oh My Goodness how terribly terribly sad, Do you think there is any way at all this poor baby will survive? What could he have done to have been turned away so brutely? Oh massive tears and heartache for this baby

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katlego raito May 18, 2012 at 5:00 am

Thats very sad man, i love animals n i hate it when they ill-treat their own blood. Even domestic animals do that. That cub is not gonna make it 2 monday. Follow him n keep us updated. Thanks a lot 4 sharin with us

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juan jose rubio coque May 18, 2012 at 9:45 am

Dear Calvin: thank you very much for this awesome blog and heartbreaking blog.
It is sad to know the young cub is rejected for his own family but this is not an abnormal behaviour in lions since other examples have happened in Sabi Sand.
I would like to understand the reasons to reject the cub but I guess we will never understand them because lately we are just stupid humans.

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a* May 18, 2012 at 10:55 am

This brought tears for two reasons.
1. You’ve captured this experience in such detail, both through your writing and photography, the sadness you speak of is portrayed perfectly in the first photo.
And secondly; we do live in the most beautiful country and we’re blessed to have the surroundings we do.
However, these surroundings would mean nothing if there weren’t great teams out there able to educate visitors from all over.
It takes an amazing guide, supported by equally amazing trackers.
Good job to you and your team. I look forward to reading more blog posts and seeing more pictures.
Thank you for allowing us to share in this together.

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terry May 18, 2012 at 11:06 am

Just heart wrenching to read. Please keep us posted on his fate. Thank you Calvin.

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walker May 18, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Very sad. I thought only male lions attacked the young. But if he is one of their own, why are the pride females attacking him-doesn’t his own mother recognize him? In one of the pictures, it looked like one of the cubs was snarling too-considering that they grew up together, one would think they recognized their fallen buddy? Perhaps he should have approached when the pride was separated? Strange

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sheila May 18, 2012 at 5:25 pm

What was to be a happy moment turned out to be so incredibly sad. I don’t understand why his family would turn on him like that. It doesn’t make sense. Any insight from you would be appreciated. Otherwise, a well written blog with some amazing photos too. You can really see the sadness in this cub through your shots. Thank you, Calvin.

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mj May 18, 2012 at 6:10 pm

It is so heartbreaking to know this little guy went back to where the place he felt safe only to find they no longer wanted him.. who ever really knows what is in the heart of the wild things.. We do know what is in our hearts and it is compassion and sadness.

Thank You Calvin

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janet kleyn May 18, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Wow, Calvin thanks for sharing that. Nicely written. Great pictures as well. So sad, I wander what’s happened there? Please keep us updated if you hear of anything.

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zoe patmore May 19, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Calvin….thank you for telling this wonderful yet intensely sad story.Even though I am thousands of miles away I feel every emotion as the guest must have felt on that drive.

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claudia krimchanski May 21, 2012 at 8:34 am

Thank you Calvin… you captured in writing all the emotions – those of the cub, your guests and your own. You have left me in tears, but also full of hope for the young cub. Please keep us updated.

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ranger rich May 22, 2012 at 9:20 am

I am sorry to let you all know that the cub was killed by the Kruger Males :-(

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syl May 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Richard, thank you for that additional info (in a sad way).

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honey badger May 23, 2012 at 12:40 am

Wow..what an incredibly sad story to come back to after being away for a while. I. Have to believe Mother Nature knew something and we can’t begin to understand.

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ranger rich May 23, 2012 at 10:02 am

It is sad but as you can see in the next blog nature does always have an answer. In nature things can never be viewed as an individual event…we need to take a step back and see what came before and after and what the repercussions of this event will have on the system as a whole.

By the way Cari…I ALMOST got a shot of a honey badger the other day but it ran off into the bush before i could hit the shutter :-(

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walker May 23, 2012 at 1:17 am

I guess the males already know he isn’t theirs and once the females withdrew protection, they just killed him? Sad, but why did the females withdraw protection to this cub alone-does this happen often?

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ranger rich May 23, 2012 at 9:59 am

Walker, I have never witnessed this before but have heard about it happening. My thought is that the youngster had been gone for too long and with the addition of so many other cubs this one had been alienated.

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thelma aleman January 17, 2013 at 4:40 am

if the cub had been gone for too long…why he can recognize his pride? and why the pride didn’t recognize him?…this is weird… need to search for more because maybe he was from another pride.

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ranger rich January 21, 2013 at 4:50 am

Thelma, it wasnt a case that he wasnt recognised, but more the fact that he was kicked out. At this time one of the adult females had gone missing too and possibly died and this could have been her offspring who had survived but due to the size of the pride they couldnt afford to carry the extra burden of raising a cub that was not theirs.

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shirley February 2, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Ranger Rich, what you said is probably the case of what truly happened. Though it is a sad story.

grace lawrence January 18, 2013 at 12:09 am

How did the seventh cub become separated from the pride?

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ranger rich January 21, 2013 at 4:51 am

Because of the prides size they are constantly splitting and coming back together.

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