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When Beverly Joubert arrives at what guides call ‘Joubert’s Island’, in Botswana’s Selinda Reserve she finds two lionesses and six cubs eyeing out a deep river crossing – a dangerous and difficult swim.


The lionesses want to cross this deep, treacherous river to go and hunt but there is movement in the water and indecision. There’s something moving in the water.


Three very large hippos are swimming through the exact path that the lionesses and the six cubs, of about 3 months of age, will have to take.

lionesses-selinda lionesses-cross-river

Both lionesses get in the water, making it to small island of reeds. The cubs are scared, swimming back and forth.

The mothers come back, abandoning the swim for now and the cubs seem delighted with that idea. Then one mother gets back up and starts swimming seriously while the cubs start whining.

The mother gets snapped at by a crocodile. Lots of growling and hissing ensues while the other lioness runs in to help. The females work together to charge an attack back – these two sisters are tight.


After a rest both lionesses are back in the water, with the cubs and all are making a break for it. They’re determined, the water calms and they know it’s time to cross. All the cubs follow the lionesses into the water but they’re not happy!


The cubs are torn; going back and forth while the lionesses strike out seriously for the other side. Four cubs get in the water and start to swim for their lives. The four cubs are not liking it much but on their way. The other two cubs spook and turn back to the bank whilst the others carry on.


The two females and four cubs make it across, safe and sound. The two cubs that refused to swim growl and call for their mothers to come back.


Alarm sets in. One of the mothers realises that the two cubs are missing and starts calling for them.


There is clearly a dilemma; the river has separated the family. The lionesses return, taking the long swim through the hippos to get to the two cubs. The mothers try to get the cubs in the water but they’re not going.


The lionesses cross the river seven times in the heat of the day to try to keep the four cubs happy while getting the other two across. With all the splashing the lionesses are incredibly vulnerable to attack and exhausted. Eventually everyone gives up and the two remaining cubs suckle before everyone lies down to sleep.


An elephant herd arrives, coming to the crossing point. The cubs are out in the open, exposed and the lionesses are not aware of the herd as they are fast asleep. A lioness leaps up and charges the elephants and the elephants eventually cross the river.

The lionesses attempt three more river crossings but the two cubs are refusing to get wet. The lionesses swim between the groups of cubs, snarling as they go to ward off any attackers. The mother tries to carry a cub, but it’s too heavy so she returns on her own once more.


Suddenly a strange lioness arrives, looking at cubs. The females see her from across the bank and cross back. There is a dust up between the mothers and the lone lioness, scattering the cubs. One of the four cubs is upset and is trying to swim back to the two. The mothers lead him back to the others and settle down with the four cubs. Scared and confused, the two cubs wait in the shade of a tree.


Growling and hissing both lionesses make another attempt to get their separated cubs to join them. The lionesses stick close together giving the impression of a larger animal and offer each other support but there’s not much light left in the day. The cubs are calling on both sides.


One female tries to pick up a cub but it’s too heavy. They’re exhausted. They head back to the other four as night comes. The two cubs watch them go… They females swim across and take the four cubs a long way away.


In the morning the cubs are found shivering in the wet reeds. They had a miserable night it seems. There is no sign of the others.


There is a sharp female call and the cubs get frantic, calling loudly. The females return, alone. The mothers appear, having silently slipped into the water. They appear anxious but ready to start the process again. The two cubs go to the water’s edge to welcome them!


This time the lionesses greet the cubs and step back into the water. There is no suckling and no milk for the two cubs that spent the night alone and hungry. At last! The petrified cubs aren’t going to be left alone again and scramble to follow their mothers into the water. Cold and hungry they latch on, one digging it claws in for support. The two females and two cubs swim across, the cubs hanging like monkeys to their mothers’ tails.

lion-cubs-crossing-river lions-crossing-river

24 hours later the two incredibly strong and diligent lionesses and their four obedient cubs are reunited with the two shivering cubs. This is a successful end to a major, dangerous saga in their lives and this experience will have taught them essential survival skills.


The six cubs and the lionesses are spotted the next day, all suckling and all eating a newly killed buffalo!

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