Today (26th) marks 14 weeks since Rusha left the pride to den with her first litter of cubs on Thursday 20th June. It wasn’t until four days later on Monday 24th that we saw her again and could confirm from the brown rings in the fur around her nipples that she had in fact given birth and cubs had been suckling.
Our last afternoon with a heavily pregnant Rusha
While Rusha split her time between the pride and the den over the following weeks, it wasn’t until almost five weeks later on the 24th July that we caught a glimpse of RS1 (f), RS2 (m) and RS3 (f) at the end of the afternoon. The lion handler accompanying research that afternoon was Kennedy Ntanda, who was the first person to spot the tiny trio coming out of the thicket, and exclaim in the most well-restrained whisper “It’s cubs! It’s cubs!!!”.
After the intial sighting we regularly saw cub-sized spoor along the site’s sand roads over subsequent weeks, but it wasn’t until the 16th August that we saw the cubs once more. Rusha was relaxed and happy to allow the cubs to suckle out in the open, and aunt number 1, Kwandi, didn’t leave her side all morning (RS1 front left, RS3 right, RS2 suckling).
A lazy Sunday morning playing with dad’s tail, whilst mum, Rusha, has a few minutes of much-needed rest on the 18th July.
Sightings of the cubs continued to be sporadic over the next few weeks. But they were very much back with the pride on the 2nd September, when RS3 put her bid in for the position of Daddy’s Girl.
The cubs went to ground again for a while before re-emerging on the morning of the 11th. We don’t know for sure if it was their first solid meal, but it was the first time we’d seen them feeding with the pride from the remains of a carcass.
Another week passes between our last sighting (at the end of the afternoon on the 12th) and an early morning trip into the site on the 18th. It’s a busy morning for the cubs with lots of walking and lots of playing. It’s also the first time the cubs were bold enough to walk past the research vehicle (although hesitantly after mum breezed past) enabling us the most detailed view of their different facial features so far. These identifying features are important to allow us to start collecting accurate and reliable data on the cubs as individuals as quickly as possible. RS1 (back) is much darker in coat colour and slightly smaller in build than her siblings. RS2 (middle, male) is the spitting image of Zulu as a cub and has a different face shape than his sisters and a very stripy pair of back legs. RS3 (front) appears to be developing a slightly wonky right ear – just like Rusha’s half-sister Leya!
The following morning; mum might be exhausted but RS3 and RS1 are full of beans and ready to play!
Three sightings three days running on the 20th! Rusha and her cubs spend the afternoon at Pan 3, and RS2 makes sure everyone knows who’s Mama’s Boy.
Next on the list for the young male, is some father-son time on the 24th. Only time will tell if RS2 inherits the family Mohawk however…
Early morning again on the 25th. Whilst mum Rusha’s done all the hard work and got these three little fire-crackers to the grand old age of 14-weeks, it’s dad’s turn now to get a thorough mauling from his daughters! RS1 claws at Zulu’s haunches whilst RS3 gives him a groom and a claw in the eye. RS2 makes sure mum and the milk aren’t too far away!