Have I mentioned how lucky we were during our trip to Kruger National Park? We not only saw the “Big Five” but the “Baby Big Five” as well.
But it almost didn’t happen.
We were happy with our trip, even though we had not seen any cheetah and only a couple lions at a distance (and no cubs). We did exactly as our South African friend suggested: “Focus on the birds. The rest is gravy.” We focused on birds, on scenery, on feeling the warm African wind and sun on our face and arms as we stopped at approved out-of-vehicle areas.
We soaked in our surroundings, first camping at Skukuza Rest Camp, then Crocodile Bridge (my dream ever since reading All Things Wild and Wonderful, imagining that ranger’s wife and the lion she was raising, just across the river), and finally a long, scenic drive north to Olifants Rest Camp.
As we sat down to dinner at Olifants, I took advantage of the camp’s wifi and checked my Facebook page. A friend of mine posted an excited note on my timeline: “Hey there, did you get to see the 16 lioness and cubs by Lower Sabie? They just posted about it.. That would be amazing to see :)”
“by Lower Sabie?” !?!? We had just driven through Lower Sabie that morning, past the area where those lioness’ and cubs would have been. Had we missed them by minutes, by hours? I tried not to think about what we didn’t see. Like the cheetahs other tourists had reported, lions were at the top of list of animals we wanted to see in Kruger. But like we did with the cheetahs we would not see on this trip, we quickly focused again on what amazing and special things we had seen: a civet, an eagle owl, endangered Southern ground hornbill.
We enjoyed the rest of our time at Olifants, and after seeing the views and hearing little but playing hippos in the river below, I promised myself a special excursion back after we have our second car, for a writing retreat week next autumn (springtime in the states).
Our last day in Kruger we packed up the bakkie and headed south for one last drive through the park. We both secretly hoped for lion sightings but accepted it probably wouldn’t happen.
Until it did.
Just a few kilometers before Skukuza and leaving the park, we saw four cars stopped ahead on the road. In Kruger, the general idea is: one car is someone taking a break or looking at a bird; two to three cars is maybe a bird or hippo, zebra or giraffe; four or more cars you better take a close look, because that’s the beginning of a “big five” traffic jam.
This lucky lioness (poor, poor, lioness) was nursing four young cubs and had a yearling at her side as well. She couldn’t even pee without the little ones wanting to nurse. For those who don’t know, a lioness has four nipples, but generally has between two and four cubs. Four isn’t the “norm.” Lucky her.
There was limited visibility through the brush from the road to the sandy bank of the riverbed below, but we took the shots we could get with my zoom lens, and moved on so that other tourists could pull in for the small window to see them.
Below is a slideshow of the lioness and her cubs. Click any image to begin a slideshow of LARGER images.
Tomorrow, the final “baby” installment: leopard cubs!