Feisty lion cub steals the show

I was in Ndutu for five days, guiding my Oryx Photography clients through Northern Tanzania. We’d found the Marsh Pride on our first day and spent a great deal of time with the lions every day afterwards. On this particular day, one little feisty lion cub stole the show.

When we arrived at the scene, all was quiet. It had been a stiflingly hot afternoon and the lions were sleeping in the shade of two acacia trees. The skies grew increasingly dark with that familiar gun-metal hue. You could smell the moisture in the air. Rain was imminent.

Lioness snarling as her cubs (with very sharp teeth) attempt to suckle. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 400

The first pride members to wake were the two youngest cubs, just a couple of months old. One lion cub was attempting to suckle from its mother, who was apparently in a very bad mood. As the cub pawed at her mother’s underside, the lioness snarled loudly and abruptly walked away. The lioness came to lay beside one of her sisters… And her cubs followed.

Lion cubs play-fighting. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 400

Fully awake, the young lion cubs (one male, one female) started to play and jump on the other pride members, before managing to deftly suckle a little more milk. The older siblings soon awoke and promptly stomped over the suckling pair.

African Lion (Panthera leo nubica)
Our cub attempting to suckle as a bigger cub treads all over her. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₄₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 400

The rain began to fall and the pride gradually awoke. The grown-ups licked-off the droplets of rain and groomed each other, but the youngsters began to play and test-out their developing hunting skills.

Lion cubs play fighting as the rain starts to fall. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikon 200-400 mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₄₀₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 800

Within the pride, there were three older cubs, each about a year old. These bruisers started chasing around the bushes and acacia trees, tap-tackling and bundling on top of each other.

Our tough cub playing and biting at a plant. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₃₂₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 400

Meanwhile, our young and feisty female lion cub attacked a small plant, occasionally looking around to see if anybody could see how tough she was. None of the others noticed.

Feeling tough, our cub leaps over and sinks its teeth into another bigger cub. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₃₂₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 400

She gazed at the older cubs, transfixed by their antics. Scampering over, our little lion cub leapt and landed square on the back of an older cub and immediately sunk her teeth in!

In retaliation, the bigger cub bites back and flattens our cub into the wet dirt. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 800
Undeterred, our feisty cub snarls back. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₆₄₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 800
Still looking for trouble, our cub looks to our vehicle for a fight. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₈₀₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 800
But moves on to a sibling her own size. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₈₀₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 800

Slightly aggravated, the older cub flipped over and started pawing her about. The rain was falling hard and the older cubs seemed to switch moods and came together to rub the little cub into the dirt.

The larger cubs chase our cub up a tree. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₄₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 800

Eventually she managed to break away. She ran to our vehicle and stared. Perhaps we were just a little too big. Then she spotted a sibling her own size and gave chase. Perhaps feeling that they had not made the hierarchy clear, the big cubs then gave chase and drover her up a nearby acacia tree. She climbed quickly to the first branch as the older cubs laid siege under the tree, joined by the other young male cub.

A larger cub biting our cub’s tail and holding her back. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₆₄₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 800

After a few minutes, the feisty female made a break for freedom, chased into the open where a large cub grabbed her by the tail and pinned her down.

Dishing out a timely jab to the nose… Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₈₀₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 on ISO 800

However, conceding defeat was just not on the agenda, so the young female wriggled free, turned around, sat down facing her aggressor and repeatedly batted him in the face!

Our cub attempts to suckle, but snarled at instead. Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ndutu, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and Nikkor AF-S 600mm ƒ/4 VR lens at ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 400

Now looking really unsure of the young upstart, the older cub turned away and chased down his brother and had a major scrap with him instead. The victorious cub trotted over to her mother for a celebratory suckle… which was greeted with a severe reprimand!