These days the Savuti channel plays a major role in the lives of the animals that live alongside it. For the lions of Savuti, the channel provides ample drinking water. On the other hand, the rising waters of the channel create a potentially dangerous obstacle for lions attempting to cross over, particularly for small cubs. Just such a dramatic event was photographed by my friend James Weis, and his story and images were published in Africa Geographic a few months back.
On a recent trip to Savuti we found a single lioness walking the north bank one afternoon. She was moving rapidly, and kept looking to the south bank. After a while, she stopped, and began to call softly, using the call that lionesses make when they are trying to locate cubs. A few minutes later, she stopped, and began to walk again.
At this point the sun dropped below a bank of clouds and lit everything up in golden light. The lioness kept walking, until she reached a place on the bank where the channel was quite narrow. Again she began to call, all the while watching the south bank of the river intently.
Suddenly we heard an answering yelp from the south bank, and we caught sight of her two cubs. The lioness had now heard and seen them, and she attempted to call the cubs to her. Whilst they ran up and down along the opposite bank, they refused to come close to the water, which was deep and fast-flowing.
Eventually, much to our relief, the lioness seemed to realize the cubs would not enter the water, and she strode out onto the edge of the deepest part of the channel. For minutes she stared hard at the blue water, searching for signs of crocodiles. Then she plunged in, and swam strongly to the south bank. The cubs greeted her with much enthusiasm and affection.
Those of us watching the drama were almost as relieved as the cubs were, and we all enjoyed the happy ending. Thanks to Carolyn Wright for her image of the lioness and cubs.