A pride of lion with tiny cubs is quite irresistible. We found this one after failing to find a cheetah, not a bad consolation prize. There were five adult females and ten cubs. (It was dusk, which is why my photos are not great. )
One mother seemed to be nursing four cubs, three of whom are visible below. (The photo appears to show a lioness with a extremely long and flexible body, but actually there are two lionesses in this photo, not one!)Once everyone was fed and rested, playtime. The adults tolerate a fair amount from the cubs, but there are limits:
Some pretend stalking:
while the adults started to think about the upcoming night’s hunt:
First priority, nightcare. They led the cubs off into the trees where they were to hide for the duration of the hunt.
Obediently, off they went.
Then the mothers went hunting, and we followed. My guide was an old enough Maasai warrior that he told me he had himself killed a lion as a rite of passage at the age of fifteen. (This tradition was made illegal about 25 years ago). He seemed to think like a lion, and was amazingly good at predicting where they would go next, so at times we went ahead of them, in pitch darkness, and lo and behold they would materialize alongside a few seconds later. They had several abortive semi-serious chases, then took off, out of our field of view, but the noises we heard made it abundantly clear they had been successful, and we found three of them on their kill, a warthog:
The one on the right held down the neck for about five minutes, till she was sure the warthog had given up the fight, but meanwhile the others were feeding already, even though their meal was clearly still alive.
By the time all three were feasting, the hyenas had gathered in the shadows, and at one point they got too close to the lions, who the chased them off.
We watched for about 45 minutes, and then two of them left, and returned a while later with the older cubs, who promptly dug in. (I’ve just upgraded my site to allow me to post videos: do let me know if it doesn’t work.)
Lemeria then found his way back to camp in the dead blackness, and it was 9.30pm by the time we pulled into camp. I hadn’t even noticed I was hungry too.
* My updated version of the title quote in full is “It is better to be a lion for a day than to be a warthog for the whole of your life.”
Appendix: My visit was spent at a camp called Saruni Wild on the Mara North Conservancy, not in the Maasai Mara National Park itself. The conservancies are less visited, and they are trying a new model of conservation that gives leases to private lodge operators, who offer direct benefits to the local communities, and accommodate their traditional semi-nomadic pastoral way of life. So far they seem to be having some success, with lion populations very healthy, and certainly they are a much less crowded way to visit the area and see the wildlife: I never had more than one other vehicle there during my stay, and most of the time it was just us. Read more here about this conservation model: