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Sam(son) and the Lion(ess)

Excitement levels on the Rietspruit Game Reserve have reached an all-time high!

Although not one for the predictable Lodge blogs, monotonous stories told of wonderful big-five sightings; Khaya Ndlovu’s tracker Sam Shambare’s tale of last Sunday afternoon’s sojourn down the Diepsloot drainage line certainly does warrant telling!

After being specifically asked by the Brazillian guests enjoying an afternoon game-drive if there was a chance of a lion sighting, Sam jumped off the safety of his tracker seat to search for the resident-Rietspruit lionesses. The two females had been seen in the Rietspruit River tributary’s drainage line earlier in the day.

Sam takes up the story, “Eeeesh!” he says, in true Zimbabwean fashion! “this was a life-changing experience for me. The grass was very long, and I could not see any tracks, however I carried on looking.”

Sam silently descended the drainage line; the bush was eerily quiet, and thanks to a God-given bush-wise sense, he just knew something was up! “I could not see either of the lionesses in the long grass, but my gut told me that they were not far.” Then a gentle movement in the waving scrub caught his eye, an ear was twitching, and spatters of blood glistened in the mottled shade of a large Marula. Naturally, Sam’s first thought was that the lioness was on a kill, but that innate bush sense and experienced eye questioned why there was only one lioness feeding on a carcass, when the two females were largely inseparable.

Curious, Sam took a closer look. To his amazement, it quickly dawned on him that the presence of blood was not in fact the result of a death, but the result of a birth! Sam gazed in awe as he witnessed the older of the Rietspruit lionesses, just 20 metres away, giving birth to the first ever litter of cubs born on the Rietspruit Game Reserve!

Sam recounts the next few minutes as something of a blur. He stood momentarily absorbing the wonder of the sighting he was witnessing. As he started a silent retreat, the younger of the lionesses came bounding out of the long grass with a warning growl to let him know he was close enough! No doubt Sam’s stars were aligned in his favour as one of the Leadwood home-owner’s just happened to timeously appear on the remarkable scene and Sam was able to scramble to the safety of his cruiser! The Rietspruit game-drive channel crackled to life as Sam breathlessly explained the moment. “ I have no power!” declared Sam, “I am weak, this is the rarest sighting of all, to see a wild lion actually giving birth!”

This news came as a sweet-shock to all the members of the Reserve; believing that the newly introduced male lions were not yet sexually mature enough to father any cubs!

Three Rietspruit male lions, (Birdman Price, 2019)

The Diepsloot drainage line has since been zoned and no-one on the Reserve knows how many cubs have been born. The area will remain closed for the next few weeks to allow the cubs to grow and settle before the sensitive vehicle habituation process starts at their den. Exciting times ahead!

The three male lions are doing very well; they have practically doubled in size since their introduction to Rietspruit in June 2018. They have been extending their territory far into the Khaya Ndlovu property and spent the day at Mcibi Pan, about a kilometre south of Khaya Ndlovu Manor House, the evening the cubs were born.

 Just as the excitement around the lion cubs was starting to settle, 24 hours later, the game-drive radio stuttered into action again with the news from another Leadwood home-owner that the recently released female cheetah had made a kill close to the reserve’s southern-most boundary. No-one responded to the sighting however, as it was a distance away.

45 minutes went by when the radio exploded into action again with an animated voice-over “I apologise for the misunderstanding” he said, “the female cheetah is not on a small kill, she is in fact grooming a newly born cub!”

The confusion arose due to the dense vegetation and height of the grass, a result of much needed rain that has fallen recently.

This area has also since been zoned for sensitivity purposes!

The male cheetah was spotted with the female in an area south of Blouwildbeest dam in early December, which correlates with the birth of the cheetah cubs and the gestation period of about 90-98 days.


Newly born cheetah cub, (Greer Leo Smith March 2019)

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