The story of the lost lion cub
An amazing story unfurled in the Maasai Mara last month, when a small lion cub was separated from its mother and survived nine days alone. Ariana Grammaticas from Governors’ Camp tells us more.
The incident began when two lionesses, called Lippy and Sila from the Marsh Pride of lions, went hunting. Lippy and Sila brought down a hippo and together with Lippy’s three-and-a-half-month-old cubs, they began to feed on the kill. Shortly afterwards, a group of lionesses from a neighbouring pride arrived on the scene and after an aggressive attack, Lippy, Sila and the three cubs retreated from the kill. In the ensuing chaos, one of the cubs, a young female, took off in the opposite direction and became separated from Lippy, its mother. The two didn’t find each other and Lippy, seemingly unconcerned, moved away to another area of the Maasai Mara.
We had no sightings of the cub until two days later when our guides spotted the cub alone near to the hippo kill. We notified the Kenya Wildlife Service rangers and took them to the site early the next morning. The cub wasn’t seen for a few days before our guides caught another sighting of it, this time the cub ran into the bushes. The following day our guides spotted the cub high up the branches of a nearby gardenia tree.
After on and off sightings and an astonishing nine days after it was first separated from its mother, we had another clear sighting. The Kenyan Wildlife Services were alerted and, assisted by a team from Governors’ Camp, the Anne Kent Taylor Wildlife Foundation team and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Foundation, they sprung into action. They managed to track down the cub, gather it up in a blanket and take it back to its two siblings in a small forest clearing near Governors’ Il Moran Camp while Lippy was away hunting.
As soon as the rangers let her go, she bolted off into the bushes and hid both from the rescue team and the other cubs. The team waited until the sun was well and truly set but eventually decided that their presence wasn’t going to be of anymore help. Leaving the clearing, they headed back to Governors’ Camp hoping that by the morning the cubs would have found each other.
As soon as the sun was up the following morning, we were off in search of the cubs and hopefully their mother. We returned to the spot where we had left them the night before only to find it deserted. After plenty of searching in the surrounding bushes, it became clear that the cubs had moved on, which meant that Lippy must have come to collect them. This was good news providing she had accepted the third cub. A passing car told us he had just seen a lioness with two cubs at the northern edge of the marsh. Refusing to believe she had left her newly-returned cub behind, we headed straight to the spot they’d been seen, only to find Lippy and two cubs lying by the Mara River trying to get warm in the morning sun. In stunned silence, we started to look in to all the surrounding bushes – and there she was, head poking out of a bush, eyeing our car. As we watched, she left the bush and went to sit with the rest of her newly-rediscovered family, sharing an affectionate moment with each of her siblings on the way. It was such a relief to see her and everyone here is delighted that it’s all worked out.
The next day, mother Lippy and Sila left the cubs and crossed the Mara River, almost being eaten by a crocodile, and spent all day on the other side of the river. Again we held our breath, what had happened to the cubs and why had she abandoned them? We didn’t see the cubs all day but Lippy and Sila must have crossed the Mara River that night because the next morning they were back together with all three cubs. In the following days, the cub has settled back well into life among the pride. The fact that this cub survived nine days on its own in the wild is an astonishing story of survival. We think that it spent the night safely hidden in the branches of the gardenia tree and its days scavenging from the remains of the hippo kill. The Governors’ Camp guides have chosen to call her Akili, which means wise, and we hope her mother can keep her safe and sound for the future of the Mara lions.
A great deal of thanks is owed to the Kenya Wildlife Service, Anne K Taylor Fund and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for their efforts to rescue this little lion cub.