Lions are the most sociable of African cats. They live in prides consisting of females who are often related, and their offspring. Prides are dominated by a male, or a coalition of males (often brothers) who are unrelated to the females. Hunting and protection are probably the key reasons behind this social pride structure.
When a pregnant lioness senses her labour, she will distance herself from the pride to give birth. After two to three months, she will then return to the pride with her young cubs. Given the social benefits of the pride, it would seem strange for a lioness to take this temporary leave of absence. However, indiscriminate allo-suckling (where a parent will allow offspring of others to suckle) also takes place within pride society. If a lioness gave birth within the pride, it is likely her very young and vulnerable cubs would lose out to older and stronger cubs during this immediate post-natal period.
This photograph is from September 2019. We knew one of the lionesses of the Lemek pride was nursing new cubs and one evening we were very well placed to witness her coming out of the dense vegetation to return to the pride with four tiny cubs. As always, many thanks to our fantastic Maasai guides Boston and Moses!
It was quite late, and we had lost the light. We parked up ahead of the direction the new family were moving in and took a few shots and watched the cubs’ playful amble across the savanna. Even at f/2 and ISO1600 I was pushing my luck, not only with a shutter speed of 1/75 but also with a very shallow depth of field!
We have limited availability for our 2021 trip to the Maasai Mara conservancies, for more information click here and also on our dedicated website, here. If you’re tempted and would like to chat about it, please feel free to get in touch.
Oh, and this male lion is likely to be the father of these cubs…