The previous evening, we left the cubs playing and the mother stretching and waking up:
Early the next morning we found them in the bushes not far away, with some other adults nearby, and a watchful jackal.
During the night they had killed, and pretty much finished eating, but the cubs had been given the bones to gnaw on and play with:
and we watched for 45 minutes or so.
They were deep in the bushes, so the light was poor. This one had the jawbone:
And this one has the foot:
They start to eat meat at two to three months, so they’ve had a month or so to get used to the idea, though they will still be nursing for about another three months
As the sun came up, the matriarch led them off to a more secluded bush to sleep it all off through the heat of the day. But being cubs they were still playing as she tried to get them to bed.
It all looks idyllic, but within two years there is a good chance that only one will still be alive. Cubs die from predators when they are left alone while their mother hunts, or from ailments, like this eye problem we found on a cub in Il Ngwesi (the last report was that the cub is doing OK).
But male cubs are especially vulnerable because they leave their mother and the pride at around three, and then have to contend with rival males until they are strong enough to take over a pride of their own.
I wish these cubs well, especially the lone male one.
PS Britannica.com offers more detail about these early years: “Newborn cubs are helpless and blind and have a thick coat with dark spots that usually disappear with maturity. Cubs are able to follow their mothers at about three months of age and are weaned by six or seven months. They begin participating in kills by 11 months but probably cannot survive on their own until they are two years old. Although lionesses will nurse cubs other than their own, they are surprisingly inattentive mothers and often leave their cubs alone for up to 24 hours. There is a corresponding high mortality rate (e.g., 86 percent in the Serengeti), but survival rates improve after the age of two. In the wild, sexual maturity is reached at three or four years of age. Some female cubs remain within the pride when they attain sexual maturity, but others are forced out and join other prides or wander as nomads. Male cubs are expelled from the pride at about three years of age and become nomads until they are old enough to try to take over another pride (after age five). Many adult males remain nomads for life. Mating opportunities for nomad males are rare, and competition between male lions to defend a pride’s territory and mate with the pride females is fierce. Cooperating partnerships of two to four males are more successful at maintaining tenurewith a pride than individuals, and larger coalitions father more surviving offspring per male. Small coalitions typically comprise related males, whereas larger groups often include unrelated individuals. If a new cohort of males is able to take over a pride, they will seek to kill young cubs sired by their predecessors. This has the effect of shortening the time before the cubs’ mothers are ready to mate again. Females attempt to prevent this infanticide by hiding or directly defending their cubs; lionesses are generally more successful at protecting older cubs, as they would be leaving the pride sooner. In the wild lions seldom live more than 8 to 10 years, chiefly because of attacks by humans or other lions or the effects of kicks and gorings from intended prey animals. In captivity they may live 25 years or more.”