During lockdown the lion sightings have been unusually rare. By not exploring the whole Makanyi area fully, we knew that we had lessened our chances of seeing them. We remained hopeful that they would appear one day.

That day came and what a sighting it was. We were in for a big surprise as the sound of zebras alarm calling pierced the morning air. It was definitely not a sound we heard often. The vervet monkey’s alarm call had got us rushing to the game viewer many times. Often it would be a false alarm and we’d come back disappointed. However this was different. We grabbed cameras and jackets and drove towards the sound of the panicked zebras but saw nothing. So we rushed out of the Makanyi entrance towards the airstrip. Eyes watering from driving fast through the winter air, we could barely see what we were looking at. Was it a hyena? As we got closer and wiped our watery eyes, it looked more and more like a lion – but was it really? We very quickly saw that it was indeed a lion – a red-faced one at that. They had taken down a zebra on our airstrip!

Elated we sped up not to miss a thing. There they were, the Avoca pride feasting on a zebra. Finally they were back. With smiles and excitement all round everyone started filming and snapping away to capture this special moment.

We watched as one by one the hyenas started gathering from all corners of the reserve. The hyena, ever the opportunist, would not miss a chance at getting a free meal. At a safe distance they sat and watched the pride, knowing that they were far too outnumbered to steal this kill away from the lions. However if they waited long enough they might get a chance at the scraps.

Sometimes we’d hear a growl or two as the older females put the younger ones in their place. Every so often they would also take a break from their meal to look up and scan the area for any danger. Just as we put our cameras down, we spotted another lioness in the distance. She was a little less mobile than the others so she had obviously lagged behind. It was clear that she was hungry since she wasted no time in getting to the rest of her pride.

Satisfied with what we’d seen, we decided to leave the sighting and planned to return in the afternoon. Little did we know that we would be in for an even bigger surprise later that day.

As we slowly approached the sighting that afternoon, we spotted 3 tiny cubs. All of us were a bit confused as we knew the Avocas didn’t have such small cubs but suddenly it all made perfect sense. The reason we hadn’t seen the pride for so many months was because they had gone off to find a safe hiding spot for the cubs to be born. The cubs looked about 3-4 months old so now they were old enough to venture out with the pride. We hadn’t seen them in the morning but they must have been a bit behind the pride and had now caught up with them.

The cubs were very shy and didn’t come out into the open much. We did hear their mum calling them closer as if to say: “It’s OK. There’s no danger.” But they preferred the safety of a termite mound they’d found. This would have been their first time around a vehicle. As the cubs get older, they will get more relaxed and will no longer want to hide when they see something unfamiliar. What a day it had been. We didn’t want to put them under any pressure so we kept our distance and left them to eat in peace and quiet. Hopefully we’ll get to see them again soon.