Life’s not as easy as it seems for the most adorable of all. Born away from the pride, blind and weighing around 1,5 kg, a lioness mother does her utmost to keep her cubs safe until they are old enough to be introduced to the family.
This only happens once her cubs are strong enough to handle themselves and don’t have to compete for milk against the more established cubs in the pride.
Females suckle one another’s cubs without favoring their own. This is probably because all lionesses in the pride are closely related and by helping to raise each other’s offspring they also increase their own genes’ success.
So you can definitely say it’s a real family affair, where the youngest rely on their cousins, aunts and ultimately dad for protection from any predators lurking around, one of many risks whilst they are growing up. Starvation, illness or even being killed by adult lions are amongst the other reasons that as many as 80% of lion cubs die before reaching the age of two.
For a young lion there is much to discover. After six months they know how to defend themselves, how and what to hunt and start to understand the language of sounds and scents.
At the age of two these young lions can catch and kill their own food and become sexually mature. Young males are chased away by the older males in the pride and form small partnerships. If they survive long enough they find another pride to take over.
By this time they will kill the prides’ cubs to start a new generation that is theirs – although lionesses are clever and sometimes the male lions do end up with offspring that is not theirs.
The young females typically stay with the pride and are all related to some degree. They will get tested by the older females and if they withstand these tests, will be accepted into the pride for their entire lives.
The females of the pride look after the cubs, and babysit them as they play together and climb trees. The older cousins and aunts are playful with the cubs around, a way of forming close family bonds and at the same time teaching them to become excellent hunters.
Cubs are not worried about the future just yet and have no idea what is going to happen. To them it just seems pretty awesome to grow up within a big family.
And although appearances are deceptive, for now it all seems very uncomplicated, like in this video below – though playing with dad is not always the brightest of ideas, and sometimes mom just wants some ‘me’ time…