Hercules Pride kills the Ross Breakaway lion cubs

Nature can be terribly harsh, and as we’ve said from the beginning, we value each sighting with the lion cubs knowing that they face danger at every turn. Sadly, this weekend, the cubs met their fate when they had a run-in with the Hercules Pride. It was over quickly, which is a mercy in itself. These are the details of this tragic event:

The Hercules Pride, consisting of two lionesses (who back in the day used to belong to the original Ross Pride) and their 4 cubs (sired by a Trilogy male) were seen feasting on a zebra kill over the weekend. Guests at Africa on Foot and nThambo Tree Camp saw the pride at the kill site, keeping relatively hidden in the bush, true to their reputation. They are usually shy cats and since their birth, the 2 Hercules females have kept their distance – either reacting aggressively or running away at the sight of a game viewer. Their territory falls on privately owned,unfenced land, on which Africa on Foot has exclusive traversing rights.

This time, the pride made a zebra kill within access of both lodges, and guests got to watch the 4 cubs (just over a year old) and the 2 lionesses devour a hard-earned meal. Two males and two females, these cubs have defeated the odds that face every vulnerable member of the bush, and so far, all 4 of them have survived. Sadly, their strength was the Ross Breakaway cubs’ weakness.

Hercules Pride male cub

Hercules cubs looking curious

Hercules pride on a zebra kill

At the time that the Hercules Pride was seen feeding on their kill, the Ross Breakaway lionesses and the cubs were seen far away from the site. The next day, Greg – guide at Africa on Foot – spotted one lioness with both cubs walking casually along the Africa on Foot access road. Eagerly piling his guests into the game viewer, Greg followed lioness and cubs for a while until they joined up with the second Ross Breakaway lioness and one of the Trilogy males. After a fantastic lion sighting, Greg turned around to respond to another cat sighting – this time, a leopard!

What happened after they left the lions was reported as follows: The Ross Breakaways were joined by a second Trilogy male and the 4 adults plus 2 cubs approached the area where the Hercules Pride was relaxing after finishing up their zebra kill. And, all too quickly, the Hercules lions came in to attack. The lionesses targeted the Ross Breakaway females who fled, leaving their cubs in a vulnerable position and without protection. The Hercules lionesses and a couple of the youngsters went straight for the cubs, killing them violently.

Hercules cub with a kill

Glimpsing the Hercules cubs through the bush

Turf wars are a significant part of lions’ lives, and the instinct to survive means that they fight each other frequently. Ranger-turned-photographer, Kevin MacLaughlin, has been observing and filming these lions for 2 years, and had the following to say about why the Hercules Pride attacked:

Lion prides will often fight with other prides if they come into contact. It’s a territorial thing between the females, and they are also seen as competition. In the lion world it is about eliminating their competition to be more successful, and the easiest way to do that is to kill the cubs.

Everyone who got to spend time with the 9 week old cubs will feel a little heartbroken now that they are dead, and we will certainly miss seeing them around. With the loss of the cubs, it is likely that the mother lioness will go into oestrus and there will be more cubs on the horizon, but with a mortality rate of 50% there is never a guarantee that those cubs will make it. Look out for a video tribute to these two male Ross Breakaway cubs later today.

Hercules Pride 3 cubs

Cubs rolling over each other