The water in the channel now covers this track for some 70 metres or so, with a small island in the middle. Elsewhere, the river is deep enough to sustain pods of hippos and we have seen numerous crocodiles, some of them quite large, all along its length. On previous visits since the arrival of the ‘new’ water, we have seen lions, cheetahs, African wild dogs, hyaenas, zebras, impalas, giraffes, ostriches and kudus all crossing the waterway, but the arrival of the hippos and crocs has made this a far riskier undertaking and I suspect that some animals are having close escapes or are even losing their lives.
The lions reached the bank of the channel and drank from its fresh, clean water. The four lionesses without cubs gazed intently at the opposite bank. They seemed very keen to cross to the other side and we were worried that the fifth lioness would try to follow with her babies. The river here is not deep enough to force adult lions to swim a long distance, but it would be an extremely strenuous and potentially dangerous exercise for the cubs.
As we watched, the four lionesses waded into the channel. The female with cubs followed them for a short distance, while her cubs battled through the reeds and fought to keep their heads above water as they tried, valiantly, to stay alongside their mom. Suddenly one of them slipped under the water completely and his mother had to fish him out quickly with her jaws. The poor little guy looked more like a wet rag than a furry little lion as he dangled limply in his mother’s mouth.
It was now becoming a bit stressful to watch the unfolding drama and we hoped that the mother would not force her cubs to follow the other lions, which were now swimming in earnest across the channel. We spent some tense moments as she called forlornly to her pride sisters. We could see that she was torn between her desire to keep up with them and her instinct to protect her offspring.
As the lionesses reached the far bank and shook off the water, the abandoned female continued to call out to them, but they strode off into the trees and out of sight. Long moments passed as we nervously watched her, now silent, as the light faded and her cubs shivered in the shallow water.
Finally she made her decision. She turned around and led her cubs back to the dry and sandy road beside our vehicle. We were very relieved to see that she had made what we felt was the ‘right’ choice and we left the cubs playing with their mother as the dusk turned to darkness.