Life and Death

Monday, September 21, 2009

Posted by Sara Blackburn at 6:45 PM

Both from our diaries and observing their swelling tummies, we’ve known that two, if not three of the females from Elephant Pepper were pregnant. A few days ago we were indeed blessed with three tiny babies, born to Siti.
The birth was rather unusual, as Siti had her cubs in the open. Some guests were very lucky to witness the event. Normally, lions give birth in dense bush or in a secluded lugga, hidden away from the rest of the pride and any potential predators. The fact that Siti had the cubs in the company of not Silver and Lilly, but also Caesar, is highly unusual.

Mum snuggles with her babies

The next morning after hearing about the event I went to check out the new arrivals. It’s such a treat to see such tiny babies, and I was quite surprised to see that she hadn’t moved them to a more secluded place. She nursed the little ones, licking and cleaning them and encouraging them to suckle. At barely a day old, they were very wobbly and still had their eyes closed. That didn’t stop them squabbling over mum’s milk though!

At barely two days old, the cubs are blind and helpless, with no teeth.

Because of her location, we decided to give her some privacy – it’s important that young cubs and the mother do not experience stress during these delicate hours. The next morning I took post at the site, as again, Siti had not moved her cubs. The area sees a lot of action from passing cattle herders to hyena and leopard, and also offered little protection from the sun, and we were a little concerned. However, the most pressing matter was the presence of Caesar. He joined this group only six weeks ago, previously being attached to Marley’s pride. He seemed relaxed, but had he indeed mated with Siti three months ago? Were these cubs his, and did he himself know of his relation to the cubs?

a00Hey! Watch where you’re treading!

Occasionally, Caesar got up to check out the babies. Mum seemed tense, and shooed him away when she had the opportunity. He tested the scent of the cubs often, possibly trying to ascertain their relation to him. Lions practice infanticide, whereby a male new to a pride will kill the offspring of previous pride holders. This encourages the female to come into oestrus, allowing him to mate with her and produce his own cubs.

a2 Caesar tested the cubs’ scent to see if they were his

Things took a turn for the worst when one of the cubs wandered over to Caesar, climbing over his paws. Initially the huge male did not react, but mum was worried. She came over to collect the little one, but unfortunately her intrusion in the delicate situation seemed to topple the balance and Caesar snatched the cub.

fightMum tried her best to defend her cubs

Mum was quick to defend, and a full-on fight broke out. The other lionesses stayed out of harms was whist Siti fought tooth and claw for the survival of her babies. Male lions are not only stronger but larger than females, and unfortunately Caesar won the battle. He ran off with one of the cubs whilst Mum desperately looked for the two remaining babies. I wasn’t sure how severely these had been injured in the fight. I knew though that eventually Caesar would kill these too.
Caesar had obviously concluded that he had not fathered the litter. It was very sad to watch, but a part of life. Females will fight hard to protect their babies, but following such an event will remain with the new male. Males as strong as Caesar will offer this little group invaluable protection from predators and other males, and in the future will be sure to safeguard his own offspring. Siti will soon be ready to mate again, and in around 100 days will have Caesar’s cubs.

a7 Caesar with one of the cubs

The next morning there was no trace of the cubs, but the little pride seemed comfortable together. I’ll keep you posted on their activities. In more good news, Caesar mated with Silver almost 7 weeks ago now, and so in two months or so we should have some babies, hopefully with a better start in life.