Lioness saves cub trapped in ravine

September 29, 2011 • 7:52 am

After that last piece, we need something a bit less stressful.  Here’s a series of photos, taken in Kenya’s Maasai Maru game park in August, of a mother lion rescuing her cub from a ravine.  Several females of the pride try to rescue the cub before the mother herself finally succeeds.  According to PuffHo, which has the same piece (but with pictures in a slideshow):

Jean-Francois Lagrot snapped these incredible shots of a lioness rescuing her struggling cub, who seems to be holding on for dear life. The perilous position of the young lion seems to have it within inches of losing its life, just before its mother comes to the rescue.

Here’s the first photo; go to the msnbc site to see the series and the heartwarming finale:

20 thoughts on “Lioness saves cub trapped in ravine

  1. Can we agree now that this was a selfless act of moral courage on the part of the pride and especially the mother?

    Or are these still dumb animals acting as soulless automatons?



    1. Well they are still soulless – I’m not sure about “automatons” (this might not be the best place for a free will debate!)

      Does anyone have a picture that shows how deep the ravine was? You can’t really tell from the linked pictures.

      1. I looked it up & the Masai Mara rainy Season is April/May & again in November. I also noted with surprise that the reserve is at 5,000-8,000 feet altitude. The photographs were taken in August & it’s of a river gully. I suppose the big risks might be…

        Drowning, if there’s still water in the gully & if it’s still fast-flowing (I doubt it would be)


        Do you remember this video of cubs taking their swimming test? The fourth cub seems to love it.

    2. Not so sure about the “selfless” part, given that the only lion who followed through on the rescue attempt was the one whose genes were at stake.

      1. But the lioness didn’t know that, did she? So it’s still “selfless,” at least to the extent that any animal can perform a selfless act: If we’re going to start invalidating motives because the outcome of natural selection helped shape those motives, then by definition no naturally occurring life can have a valid motive! That’s not a particularly useful definition, IMO.

        1. Obviously the lioness has no conscious knowledge of genetics or inclusive fitness, but so what? She surely knew it was her own cub down there and not someone else’s. And because of that knowledge, her motive to rescue it was stronger than that of the other lions. So we can’t really equate this to an act of selfless human altruism in which someone risks their life for a stranger simply because it’s the morally courageous thing to do. This was a mother protecting her child, which even in humans we attribute to maternal instinct rather than to selfless moral courage.

          As for the pride’s moral courage, that stopped at the edge of the cliff.

  2. It must be completely instinctive. I’m sure the lions feel no stress, fear, relief or joy at the rescue.

    Actually, I don’t know, do I? I’m anthropomorphizing again. But I swear I’ve seen such a range of emotion in my own cats.

    1. The only way humans could have saved the cub would have been by darting all the adults and waiting for them to go down before moving in. So the reaction would have been one of waking up from deep sedation to find the cub with them, with the smell of human all over everybody.

      And, even if a fully-equipped team were on the site, I’m not sure that they would have done any better than mama. The cub might well have panicked when the humans approached….


  3. I see nothing to indicate that the “ravine” rendered the cub “within inches of losing its life”.

    There’s no way to tell from either set of pictures I saw, how deep it went or how dangerous to the cub it was.

    Having said that, yes, the (mothering) force is strong with that one. I note that no male lions are offering to help! But they’re the ones who kill cubs they see as rivals, aren’t they?

    Let’s not get too sugary with our lion worship.

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