Love At First Sight

Last week, on September 8, I had an experience that may come only once in my lifetime.

In recent weeks, I and my fellow safari guides and trackers had noticed something different about the so-called Mountain Pride, one of the lion prides residing in the N’wanetsi Concession in the Kruger National Park. Namely, one of the adult lionesses was missing.

Before this lioness disappeared, we knew that she was heavily pregnant. As such, we reckoned that she had probably split up from the pride to give birth. The new mother had most likely found a very well-hidden spot where she could care for and protect her newest and most-cherished possession.

Lions give birth to altricial young, meaning that the cubs are born in an undeveloped state and require care and food from their mothers for the first few months of their lives. In fact, lion cubs are completely blind and immobile for the first few days of their lives. Because of the newborns’ vulnerability, the mother has the vitally important task of finding a very well-hidden location, so as to give her young cubs the best chance of surviving one of the most critical stages of their lives.

After weeks and weeks of eager anticipation, I was finally treated to a spectacular view: three tiny newborn lions hiding behind their mother.

For me, along with the five people seated in my vehicle, viewing this magnificent sight was made more special with the knowledge that we were the very first people on earth to see them. Equally special was knowing that, for these tiny lion cubs, we were the first humans they had encountered.

One of the newborn Mountain Pride cubs stares at us while hiding behind its mother.

Of course, with a sighting of this type, we were extremely cautious and sensitive to the well-being of the cubs. We made sure not to get too close as we wanted to make sure that these cubs’ first experience with humans would not cause stress, and obviously we also did not want to compromise their overall survival and well-being.

The moment of first glimpsing the newborn cubs was hugely emotional. Seeing new life is always special, but seeing new life in the wild is incredibly heart-warming.

On that exceptional day, after weeks of waiting patiently for a first view, I was rewarded with a moment that I will cherish forever.

The two other cubs are equally curious as they peer at us from behind their mother.

Check out this video to learn more about what it means to give birth to altricial young, and specifically, what the first few weeks of a cat’s life are like.