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Motherhood in the Wilderness

September 10, 2011 by  


Tailless Female

It’s not a hard and fast rule, but most guides leave Londolozi having made a connection with a specific animal and that invariably turns out to be a leopard. Stoff watched her from the moment she was born.

The Tsalala lioness has intrigued me since the moment I first encountered her in 2004 as a single lioness with her two 18 month old cubs. She stood out then because she was a single mother surrounded by booming big prides. She was in her prime and she was capable of hunting wildebeest and zebra single handedly. As a result her two daughters were never short of a meal and the three of them were always in immaculate condition; it is not unusual to see prides looking thin and in poor condition from time to time, but not these lions.

Time has marched on since I first met the 3 of them at Ximpalapala koppie almost 8 years ago… When I think back over the years I realise I have seen her at some of her strongest and weakest moments. I watched her temporarily abandon both daughters when her litter in April 2005 was born. The two young girls, confused as they had never known a life without their mother sat in the Albizia tree overlooking Marthly Pools and roared their heads off desperately calling for her. She hadn’t permanently abandoned them but had other pressing needs and had raised her two daughters to be able to cope with such a moment. When she found them again they were adults: confident and capable.

It was 6 months later when a clan of hyena caught her at her most vulnerable moment. She had caught a zebra and the clan found her at the carcass alone save for her 4 cubs. She was able to get her cubs to safety but not before she received a mauling that resulted in the loss of her tail and made her instantly recognisable and virtually a global star! 5 years on and those two little females who waited at the Albizia are now the veteran tsalala mothers with 8 cubs and the tail-less lioness is raising 4 young females to adulthood on and off. They have been re-united many times over the years, but sadly the Male lion dynamic has driven this pride apart and we can only hope that they permanently find each other again. Even on leave I find myself getting onto the blog to find out if, where and with whom she has been seen. Quite possibly we need that re-union more than they do!

Ultimately the connection I share with the Tail-less lioness is that of motherhood. Beyond her determination, dedication and triumph against the odds I have especially admired her no nonsense approach to raising cubs and have tried to adopt her philosophy to raising my two children at home:  have fun and explore but this is the line and you are not to cross it! Challenge this boundary and there are consequences- but we’ll swiftly move on.

This might seem bizarre to take parenting advice from a wild lioness but all females on this planet probably share the same maternal instincts to a certain degree. I suspect that human instincts are being muddled up by over analysis and I believe that the Tail-less female has led me back to a simpler set of truths.

Written by Kate Imrie