Unusual behaviour from an inexperienced mother lioness

Grumeti | September 2020

It was a busy morning out in the field around Sasakwa plains, whereby mega herds of migratory animals congregated along Sasakwa Dam to quench their thirst. Luckily we located eight members of Butamtam pride consisting of six full-grown lioness with two sub-adult cubs. The lions were actively showing interest towards the drinking animals around the waterhole. One of the young cubs got up and started chasing herds of zebra and wildebeest while the adults were in a position of concealment. The cub’s blunder rendered the hunting mission impossible as all the prey noticed the presence of predators and escaped.

The lions decided to move to shade because it was getting hot. One of the lionesses continued to move around, while calling in a very low voice, inspecting all the bushes and thickets around the area. In the next twenty minutes she managed to find and reunite with her tiny cub aged about ten-weeks-old. She sat down for a few minutes and then left the youngster unattended and went to the nearby shade where she fell asleep for a long time. As it was getting too hot we also left for lunch break and got back after an hour, and we relocated her sleeping in the same spot.

Later on she stood up and walked directly to one of the whitethorn acacias while looking up in an aggressive and stressful manner. I positioned the vehicles at a distance and used my binoculars to scan the tree. Sadly what I saw was her second cub with a severe injury in between the back legs. It was already dead. It seemed like the four buffaloes which were resting under nearby bushes were responsible for the death of the cub. The mother struggled to pull the dead cub down from the tree by stretching her body, sharp claws and front legs until she managed to drop it down.

Once the cub was down we witnessed a strange behaviour – she started consuming her own offspring and completely finished the whole cub without leaving behind any left overs. She moved on and called the single surviving cub, and then together they moved away from that location and to a safer habitat.

I then realized that she was a young female and that this was her first litter, a less-experienced mother taking care of her cubs. I believe she learnt a good lesson of not leaving her cubs within an exposed area for a long time.