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The White Lions of Klaserie

This morning, we woke very early to take a walk through the reserve, but there were too many signs of lion and a large herd of buffalo near camp, making it unsafe to go on foot.

We took a drive instead and had good sightings of the buffalo, a lion pair mating, and part of our Ross lion pride. Among the six lionesses and their cubs, we recognized Patches. She recently gave birth to a white lion cub (white lions are from this area) and two tawny cubs.

We’ve had great sightings of her and the little cubs for weeks, but it’s been about six days since I last saw the white cub and one of its tawny siblings. I’m afraid that they haven’t survived. Patches introduced her remaining cub to the pride two days ago - at the normal age of about eight weeks. Along with Patches’ gorgeous little one, there are two eight-month-old cubs and two more of six-months old. 

White Lions of Klaserie - white cub
The white cub of the pride playing happily with his tawny brothers and sisters. Cubs at this age are extremely curious and playful.
White Lions of Klaserie - some of the tawny cubs
Two of the slightly older tawny cubs look on, always alert.

While we were watching this group of mothers and cubs, the buffalo herd began to move off. Buffalo is the pride’s preferred food, so the lionesses followed with the older cubs. Only Patches’ young cub and a sister lioness in very poor condition stayed behind. This lioness has an injured back leg – most likely broken during a hunt – and she can no longer keep up with her sisters.

Normally, the young cub would simply wait quietly for his mother’s return under a bush, but as we watched, the injured lioness picked him up in her mouth and took him under thick bushes. Patches heard the cub cry and looked back, but the crying stopped, and she hurried after the others, focused on the buffalo.

White Lions of Klaserie - white cub
The little white lion cub of the Klaserie Ross Lion Pride.
White Lions of Klaserie - the cubs nursing
The cubs nursing from their mother together.

We watched, horrified, as the injured lioness killed and ate Patches’ last remaining cub. I couldn’t help but ask, was this the fate of the other cubs? A lioness that is too injured to hunt slowly weakens until she falls behind and becomes prey for hyena or another pride. It seems likely that this lioness has survived by staying with the young cubs, to which the pride returned after hunting. At some point, her hunger overcame her protective instincts and led to this abnormal behavior.

We left the sighting profoundly sad. Not only did we witness the injured lioness’s final infanticide, but she had just destroyed the pride’s only reason for coming back to her... 

This post was written by Zena Baxter, the camp manager of Baobab Camp in Klaserie Private Nature Reserve, home of the famous Ross white lion pride.

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