When Lion Cubs Meet a Leopard Tortoise in Hwange National Park

During a recent safari to Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park we were treated to a very special afternoon with a group of 6 young lion cubs around the Ngweshla Waterhole.

As we arrived we saw the curious cohort gathered around a small Leopard tortoise. Given their interest levels, I'm pretty sure they had only just discovered this poor little fella.

Lion cubs and leopard tortoise in Hwange National Park

We watched as the cubs pawed and clawed at the pretty defenceless Leopard Tortoise. It was fascinating to watch the various tactics at play as the cubs tried everything from biting to swatting in an effort to break through the carapace and get to the tortoise. Obviously this was more out of curiosity and play than them actually pursuing the chances of a meal.

Lion cubs and leopard tortoise in Hwange National Park

As is often the case in the private concessions of Hwange National Park, we were the only vehicle in the sighting for the entire afternoon - we must have spent the better part of 4 hours with these youngsters. Photographically speaking, time with lion cubs is always a treat as they tend to be far more active than the average adult lion.

This was obviously enhanced by the fact that the lion cubs had a brand new chew toy!

Hwange National Park

Each cub had their turn to try and somehow get to the tortoise that had done a fantastic job of tucking itself into its shell. Without fail, the cubs would eventually tire, leaving the tortoise to recover for only a couple of seconds before the next cub would take on the challenge.

Try as they might, the curious cohort just could not break through the carapace and, eventually, they started to loose interest in the tortoise.

Lion cubs and leopard tortoise in Hwange National Park

As the afternoon wore on and the heat of the day subsided, we noticed one of the dominant male lions emerge from a nearby thicket. He sat upright with his eyes fixed on the young cubs for quite some time before approaching the cubs to see what all the fuss was about for himself. He paid little attention to the tortoise, giving nothing more than a brief sniff before continuing on his way.

Male lion in Hwange National Park

The cubs, tired of their fruitless attempt to elicit a response from the tortoise, opted for something a bit more engaging and pursued the male lion as he made his way towards a nearby termite mound.

The stage was set. Late afternoon light, lions and a termite mound.

It doesn't get much better than this.

These are just six images from that special afternoon in Hwange National Park but I can assure you that there are plenty more and, more importantly, this was an afternoon that our guests will never forget!

Andrew Beck

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