I started my Earth Day by carrying a nearly six month old lion cub from the bush to her enclosure, something we would normally never do. She had gotten separated from her three other cub mates, and as the leader of the group, I believe that she was “doing her job” to stay in the bush in an attempt to find them, not realizing that they had been back safely in their enclosure for quite some time. Once she was located and I made my way to her, she stopped running and hissing at others and came to me with calls and nuzzles of recognition. After realizing that she was too stressed to follow me as she normally would, I resorted to carrying her, initially out to the trail hoping she would follow, but she again retreated to the bush, so that meant carrying her the whole way, and I can assure you that a cub of that age is pretty heavy, so it was quite a workout.
Of all the things I thought I would witness, having a lion cub trust me enough to be carried that distance, with complete surrender in my arms, thankfully not too far — well, it was humbling to say the least. I think she knew that I would return her safely to the others, and that I had come to retrieve her and take her to familiar surroundings, and to her cub mates. There was much vocalizing and nuzzles by all cubs when they were reunited with each other, and a few little nibbles on each other, as they are known to do. After she was settled and had a small meal, they all napped peacefully together.
As hard as it will be to say goodbye to them in a few months, I have every confidence that these cubs will continue to do well, as they have demonstrated such close and healthy social bonds with each other, and with the guides and handlers as they get to know them. To be witness to this process, which I missed with the other lions that I’ve walked with, is quite a gift. And whatever small part I may play in the very large effort to save this species, I’m honored to do so, on this Earth Day, and every other day.
I haven’t been taking my Nikon with me much lately, so here are a few photos from my phone of the cubs.