Well, actually we'll be looking at a lot of little cats of the savanna ... baby lions!! Although a baby cheetah was my #1 wish for this safari, baby lions were #2. I've seen young lions before, such as at Kwai Concessions in Botswana, but not teensy babies. But oh boy did we see some cuties in the savanna areas of Ndutu in Tanzania, and the Masai Mara in Kenya.
In Ndutu, our guides, who keep tabs on all of the area prides and usually know who might have cubs, thought that this was probably the first day that this lioness had brought these tiny cubs out of the tall marsh reeds onto the open savanna. This was not far from where we saw the baby cheetah. The tall marsh grass makes good cover for all the babies.
What I love about the picture above is the one cub's arm sticking up in the air, his paw looks so tiny. When cubs are standing and walking, their paws look huge, all splayed out. Two cubs are cashed out in the front. The cubs alternated between playing and sleeping all cozied up to one another. Some were more into playing than others. Just watching their dynamic, interacting with one another, was precious beyond words. We had the cubs all to ourselves for quite awhile. Finally one other vehicle joined us, but mostly these priceless moments were our own.
The most hilarious thing about them was when they were nursing. The little grunty noises they made, I don't know how to describe them, crawling over mom and pushing each other over for the best spot at the buffet.
This mother was so sweet, always trying to lick her cubs and carry them around. It's remarkable to see how gently she scoops them into her powerful jaws and sharp teeth and carries them so delicately.
Just look at her scooping up her cub with her giant paw into her mouth! Such a loving mother. (Though I must say, I'm glad my mom didn't have to carry me around in her mouth.)
The little cubs ... honestly. Are you dead yet? My mom and I just about died. Between the baby cheetah and these kids, it's a miracle we made it back to Kenya alive. They're perfect, like little stuffed animals.
There was another lioness there, probably a sister to the mother. She looks vicious, but she's really just finishing a yawn. But I like the look on her face and the nice showing of teeth!
Little cub showing us his baby teeth. My goodness, so vicious! Rawr.
But the magic had to come to an end as the sun got lower in the sky. The lionesses led the cubs back into the safety of the tall reeds from which they came.
Although time spent with the babies is extraordinarily special, time spent with any lion is special! One afternoon we spent a couple hours with some lions that our guides thought also had cubs and might bring them out into the open. In the end, we did not see the cubs. And the lions weren't doing much. But hanging out near them ... I mean, how often does one get to do this? They slept a lot. If they twitched a paw or rolled over on their back, it was still exciting. "Oh look, he moved his paw!" This is why animals are so remarkable -- even the tiniest movement can stir our hearts. I think it's funny how huge lions can still sleep like kittens in funny positions.
The fella above is standing in the rain, you can just make out the drops in the air. Below, this male lion played hide-and-seek in the bushes for a short while before walking toward us shaking flies out of his mane.
And a couple black-and-white portraits of this young lion sitting beside a tree. I think his mane is still growing in, he's just got a couple nubs of fur on the top of his head.
So, thrilled with our Ndutu sightings,we moved on to the Masai Mara in Kenya, where we stayed at our guide's lovely bush camp. I hope you're not sick of lions and lion cubs yet, because I have a whole new spread from the Mara! Although I didn't manage to get these first pics in good focus, I still think they are super fun, illustrating the strength of bonds and play between siblings. These adolescents were having quite a time romping and rolling with each other. Their affection for each other is palpable.
And this lion was practicing his Shakespearean acting. I believe he has just been dramatically poisoned and is lying tragically dead, Juliette bent over him in sorrow. Who knew lions were such accomplished thespians?
One of the most magical moments was one afternoon fading into evening with a dark blue storm sky and these lions crossing the hill in the misty air. I didn't take a picture of the most dramatic scene, a lone lioness cresting the hill with a darker, brooding sky behind her.
We thought we were going to get to witness a lioness taking down a warthog. She and her pride mates had been intently watching a warthog. Elly, our guide, mentioned that lions like to catch warthogs. Then foom! all of sudden she was up and sprinting down the hillside.
But she broke off and did not catch it.
If you happen to watch many nature shows on TV, you might know that some animals and groups of animals are pretty famous. The Marsh Pride of the Mara is one of them, which I've seen followed and filmed on numerous shows, particularly Big Cat Diaries. (which was the inspiration for my cats' Twitter page, "Small Cat Diaries" ... in case you want to follow the lives of my kitty cats. :-) ) So when Elly led us to a group of lionesses lounging on a fallen tree and told us they were the Marsh Pride, I got (once again) a little beside myself. Just like if I were to see a famous human I admired on the street. So we stopped to watch them for awhile. Nobody else (humans) anywhere in sight.
We watched them for awhile as they woke up one by one and descended the tree onto the ground. Elly didn't say a word although he suspected they were there ... so when we saw this little face peek out and surprise us, mom and I of course were squealing.
Pretty soon a whole little crew of wee ones came spilling out of the hollowed tree.
This was an interesting situation in that there were two lactating lionesses but one of them was not at all in the mood to nurse the cubs. So I guess that's one advantage of a pride -- mothers can nurse each others' cubs. The cheetah moms and leopard moms don't have this luxury. If they don't feel like feeding the kids, too bad, it's all up to them.
So the cubs mostly got the hint (though it took some of them awhile) and piled on to the willing lioness. And once again made the indescribably cute noises as they jockeyed for prime position and suckled.
We were inside several rain storms on the savanna. It was no big deal to us, of course, in our vehicle where we could easily pull down the pop-up roof. The animals endured with an admirable stoicism. Like this lion hunkered down.
This juvenile lion particularly stole my heart, as he reminds me very much of my kitty, Jasper. So much so that after I got home, I nicknamed Jasper "my little lion." He also endured a brief rain storm.
But we weren't done with baby cubs yet! We found this lioness and her two tiny cubs a couple times. Our guide explained that they were so young that the lioness had not yet introduced them to the rest of the pride. Mothers usually spend some time alone with their newborns before bringing them into the pride. She was protecting them, putting them between herself and a big bush.
Sleepy little lion! Just waking up all groggy.
So I hope you've enjoyed this photo fest of lions. They are certainly one of the most iconic animals of the savanna ... the epitome of beauty, power and family. And crazy cuteness. Easy to see why many have given it the moniker, "King of Beasts." Queen of the beasts, too!
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