Patience! a key ingredient for wildlife viewing. And yet, good fortune and luck play such an important part, too, by simply being at the right place at the right time. My family and I have just spent one of the most amazing two weeks in the Serengeti in Africa, where we experienced 18 new and unique encounters. By encounters, I mean stories unfolding before us and worlds being disclosed.
Early one morning, we heard that there was a female lioness carrying a cub in her mouth, clearly moving her den with her two cubs. As we approached the road we could see her in the distance trotting down the road towards us with her two-month-old cub in her mouth. We followed her to her destination, which was a high-grass marshy patch near the waterhole. As she made her 500-metre walk with baby in mouth, other tourist vehicles began to congregate and follow her. The baby was safely placed on the grass and, after a long well-deserved drink of water, the mama made her way back for the second cub.
It was a windy morning. The wind was taking her scent directly to the gazelles grazing along the way who all stood alert in anxious anticipation. But mama had a clear focus. The tourist vehicles increased. Dust was everywhere. Engine noises and excited tourists’ peals of glee filled the air. Our annoyance at the vehicles was rising. Especially since we were the first to find her and felt great ‘ownership of the scenario’.
Now, she was clearly back at the spot and was searching for her cub. She was sniffing the ground, calling, looking around anxiously. We soon realised that she had lost her bearings. The wind, the dust and the engine sounds had confused her. Her cub was lost. How foolish of her to leave such a small infant unguarded in open grassland. Anything could have happened. A hyena could have chanced upon it. It had been an hour since she had departed with her other cub in her mouth. But no matter how we tried to blame her and everyone else, we had to take responsibility for intruding into what is one of the most delicate things for a lioness to do—keep her young cubs safe. By now, the vehicles had thinned out. After about half an hour of calling and sniffing around, she made her slow and determined way back to the first cub in the tall grass. Was that it? Was the search over? With heavy hearts we slowly followed her back. Now we were the only vehicle remaining.
Back at the watering hole there was a handsome young male drinking water. Again, our anxiety rose. Was he the father of the cub? Mama came up to him. They greeted each other and it was clear they were from the same pride. There was a relaxed familiarity. She drank some water. Lounged around a bit with the male. After about an hour, she was up and off again to the grass plains in search of her lost cub. The wind too had stopped. And we were the only vehicle in sight. We nervously followed her at a good distance, determined not to disturb this delicate search. She walked on with calm determination. Within seconds of reaching her destination, she had her tiny little cub in her mouth and was making her way back to base! We exploded with delight!
Her two beautiful cubs will soon be big enough to join the pride, where they will blossom in the affection of these incredible beasts that rule the Serengeti, playing their part to keep this precious part of our planet alive. We grudgingly left this blissful family scenario to head back to camp for lunch.