Tuesday 15 March 2016

A day spent with a Lion Creche

Every now and again, you find yourself having a day on safari that seems hard to top.

The 11th of December, 2014, was one such a day. My wife and I were on a quick safari to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park that straddles South Africa and Botswana. If you've been following my photography for a while, you'd know it's a destination that's on my travel list most years.

After having a fairly quiet trip thus far when it came to big cat sightings (yet a trip to the Kalahari is always special and unique in its own right), we struck gold that day. It was all lions for us on this day.

It started with us being roared from our sleep at 3am in the morning while staying in the Urikaruus Wilderness Camp, and seeing those same lions drink from the camp waterhole later as the sun rose (see the photo HERE).

When it looked like this pride of 8 lions was going to flop down for the rest of the day like lions do, we headed north to the 13th Borehole waterhole to see what was going on there.

There then found a gorgeous-looking male lion and a lioness, having just drunk their fill from the waterhole, mating right next to our vehicle! To see images of that sighting, and that particular male, check out THIS POST.

This post, however, is about the other members of this particular pride. When the male and female had mated for another round, and their throws of passion died out, I looked across the Auob riverbed and saw this bunch approaching!

This lioness was guarding a creche of 7 cubs of varying ages (we later saw that she was the mother of the eldest bunch of cubs), and she was marching them to the water at a pace!

The cubs spent quite some time drinking and playing around the waterhole...

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f8.0  |  1/1000 SS  |  ISO-360

After about 15 minutes the whole bunch moved across the road where we were parked and up into the dunes. We decided to proceed north to Mata Mata as we needed to refuel.

Seeing as we needed to return to Urikaruus anyway, we decided to check up on whether the lions had returned to the waterhole at 13th Borehole when we came back down at around 11am. Sure enough, the whole creche was lying up under a bush right by the waterhole again!

They were going to be there for a while, given the heat and the proximity of water, so we headed back to our camp (about 10km from there) to have some lunch and a quick rest. The plan was to get back to this spot by around 14h00 and see what they would do for the afternoon.

Upon our return they were still lazing about - but the incoming storm caused the temperatures to drop and the light to go nice and soft, which turned out great from a photographic point of view.

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f6.3  |  1/1000 SS  |  ISO-720
The lions had some shade - we didn't!

At one point the smaller cubs began playing around in one of the camelthorn trees close to the waterhole...

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f4.0  |  1/1000 SS  |  ISO-1100

Afterwards, a couple of the cubs tucked into the female for a bit of milk - and she certainly wasn't having a great time between their sharp claws and fangs!

The weather was turning ominous pretty fast, and I had a feeling the lion creche would be on the move soon...

Nikon D3s  |  Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8  |  f5.6  |  1/400 SS  |  ISO-360

Sure enough, all of them got up and moved down to the waterhole again...

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f5.6  |  1/1000 SS  |  ISO-640

...filling their bellies with life-giving water...

The lioness then moved back across the Auob. Seeing that they seemed to have come down from the dunes on the Namibian side I concluded that they would head back there (their place of shelter) when the storm came in.

The cubs played around for a few more moments, and then followed after her.

Nikon D810  |  Nikkor 400mm f2.8 VR  |  f5.6  |  1/800 SS  |  ISO-560

We drove around to the main road leading over the Auob riverbank heading back north to intercept their approach as they made their way back up the dunes.

Nikon D800  |  Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR-II @ 180mm  |  f5.6  |  1/1250 SS  |  ISO-1800

As they moved away, we reflected on the special time we had with these 7 cubs and the lioness that took care of them. For the most part of the day, except for the morning session which was shared by about 10 vehicles, we had them all to ourselves because we stuck it out in the heat and spent time with them when everyone else was trying to relax in the uncomfortable hours of the afternoon.

It's worth putting the time in with wildlife photography! I always say - keep what you have.
Too often people see an animal, decide that it's too static for them, and move on in search of the next sighting...when much can be achieved by simply sitting, observing, waiting, and merely enjoying it for what it is - a privilege!

Morkel Erasmus


  1. Great photos and story, Morkel.

  2. beautiful, i remember one day when we spent 7 hours with a mating couple of lions at th polentswa waterhole where we were alone almost 6 hours.
    thats a sighting you will nevr forget...

    1. Sounds quite memorable! Thanks for stopping by...

  3. Excellent coverage. Wonder where the other mother was? Is it natural that this mother would also look after the second litter while without her Pride?
    Sandra Todosychuk

    1. It's quite common for pride females to take communal duties in raising the young. I think she was mating with the pride male at the time.