With the Southern Pride numbers growing and the search for food for the new mouths taking them far and wide, the pride has started setting up a baby sitting roster for the little ones. On the last few occasions with the little ones we have noticed how the mothers are rotating duties of looking after the cubs.
Michell had a fantastic sighting of the cubs playing in the trees whilst the female with the injured leg slept close by, popping her head up from time to time to ensure that they were still ok.
On a number of occasions that I have had the opportunity to see the little ones, they have been with two different females, just showing how well the pride works together in order to ensure that the cubs will survive this very tough time in their lives. The mortality rate in lion cubs is about the same as that of leopards and can be as high as 60%. The Southern Pride though has an excellent record in raising their cubs to adulthood, with the first litter I had the pleasure of meeting having 9 out of 11 survive and in the last litter before these little cuties, 6 out of 12 survived. I have to put this down to the excellent care the mothers give as well as the size of the pride.
If the pride had not been as big as they were when the Kruger males took charge, none of the previous cubs would have survived. This batch of cubs is fast approaching 3 months old and are looking great. Their little bellies bulging after feeding on the elephant carcass left them in a playful mood, but still looking for more milk from mom.
Every time one of the surrogates lay with her nipples exposed, the 5 cubs would dive in to find a nipple, fighting with one another for a bit more milk. I have noticed though that when the supply of food has been short for the pride, that the mother looking after the cubs will only allow her little ones the opportunity to get some milk and will growl and bite her sisters cubs, but when there is a time of plenty, the mothers will allow any of the cubs an opportunity to feed.
It has also been amazing to see the distances the cubs are moving with the pride. The females are just stashing the little ones in den sites closer to their positions and then fetching them once dinner has been caught. I estimate that the cubs must have walked more than 40 kilometres in the last week which is a huge feat for those little legs. Over the last week we have seen all seven cubs and even though only 5 have been seen on the last few occasions, I feel confident that the other 2 are alive and well. It excites me to no end at the prospect of watching another Southern Pride litter make it to maturity and the young males conquering more of the Sabi Sands!