A big coalition like the Birmingham males (four-strong) will invariably be split up a lot of the time.

Breaking off as individuals or pairs allows them to cover more ground and secure their territory more effectively. One tends to see this with all successful large coalitions. The Majingilane for instance were only seldom encountered as a full unit of four, and only once have I seen the Birmingham males all together, although if they stick around for the next few years I’m sure we’ll see them together more.

Although the traditional view of lion prides is of females all living and hunting together, the reality is that just like the males, female groups also split up fairly often. A lot of their splitting up revolves around their oestrus cycles and birthing; when ready to mate they will necessarily have to split away to find a male, assuming there isn’t one accompanying the pride at the time. Also, when raising cubs, it’s imperative that the mother returns to them often in order to nurse them, and if the pride happens to be far away, that just means that the mother will be living in an enforced isolation for awhile, hunting for herself (which she is more than capable of doing).

Ntsevu Reflection Jt

Lionesses split from their prides fairly regularly.

The fun for us is that with all this splitting up of the two main groups of lions that are currently dominant over Londolozi’s Eastern sections (Birmingham & Ntsevu), most mornings – and therefore usually the evenings as well – present a smorgasbord of lion activity, with multiple sightings often being the norm.

One male will be with two females, another two males with 3 females, and the 6th female will be off by herself somewhere. Come nightfall and they all have to try and find each other again.

Males start roaring from their respective positions, and the evening chorus is filled with their deep bellows as they all try to establish where the others are calling from. The current state of the six-strong Ntsevu pride (one lioness with cubs, another possibly pregnant) means that there is still a substantial amount of mating going on between the various members of the coalition and the females.

A few nights we were sitting with four of the Ntsevu females as the sun set. With skinny bellies, we knew they would want to hunt, and the almost constant calling of the male impalas in full rut might as well have been dinner bells sounding all around us.

Ntsevu Birmingham

The Ntsevu pride on the hunt; black ear backs serving as a follow-me sign, ears all pointed forwards to help pinpoint the positions of the rutting impalas that were up ahead.

We followed the lionesses for about 45 minutes as they weaved in and out of the thickets. Although they passed a number of rutting impala rams, it was still quite light – not yet ideal hunting conditions – and they were spotted before they could commit to a final rush.

As darkness fell properly, the roars of a male began issuing up into the night sky from a waterhole only a few hundred metres away, and it was interesting to note that only one of the lionesses trotted off to actively seek out the male. Scampering through the darkness, she found him within a minute, and immediately began initiating copulation. The male, although seemingly interested at first, ended up doing little to commit to the mating, and as it turned out, the female seemed to lose interest as well after a few minutes, particularly once the rest of the pride had caught up.

Ntsevu Birmingham 2

The first lioness to join the male was weaving in and out of the spotlight, presenting herself to him.

Ntsevu Birmingham 4

A second female that approached didn’t take too kindly to the male’s advances on her.

Could it be that when mating with a big coalition, lionesses, once having mated with one or two of the males, are only properly interested in then mating with the other males of the group? I know that in bigger coalitions, males sometimes kill each other’s cubs, more often than not because they themselves haven’t mated with the female in question, and are therefore less likely to be able to recognise their genetic investment in her offspring. Maybe the first female to rush off to find the male had already mated with one or more of the Birmingham males, but soon after uniting with the individual in question, realised he was one of them and was therefore not worth as much from a mating point of view.

Ntsevu Birmingham 5

This female, one of the last to join the male, wasn’t interested in mating at all, and lashed out at him more than once.

Possibly. But with six different females mating with four different males and all switching partners over the last few months, it quickly becomes hard to keep track of who has mated with who and there’s no way that we can say for sure.

The male, after having roared and to all intents and purposes summoned the four lionesses to him, had the good sense to keep quiet after that, as the females returned to their hunting attempts on the ever-rutting impalas, whose nasal grunts and roars formed a constant ambient noise.

Eventually emerging onto a large clearing, the lions had their work cut out for them with the sudden lack of cover, so we left them to the hunt.

These fluctuating dynamics are deja vu in many ways from late 2010 and early 2011 when the Majingilane were still establishing themselves, although not as disruptive. I seriously doubt the Birmingham males will be able to rival the 8-year hold that the Majingilane had on large portions of the Sabi Sand Reserve, but they’re certainly off to a good start.

Filed under Lions Wildlife

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

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on Lion Update: An Evening with the Ntsevu Pride

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

Interesting that the Birminghams might not reign as long as the Magingilane. How old are they? Do they still go to the north of the Sands? Will it be like the Matimbas that came and went?

Mj Bradley

The Birminghams are 7 & 8 yrs old and they just went north last week and chased off the 3 Avoca Males..

Denise Vouri

Interesting observations James. I’m wondering if the difference between the Majingilane and Birmingham coalition is that the former had more focus within their territory early on and the new guys on the block are trying to figure it all out. The months ahead should prove to be interesting and hopefully there will be several new cubs to bring us all new stories.

James Tyrrell

Hi Denise,
It’s an interesting one, as the Birmingham males have been around for a few years already, but are relative newcomers to Londolozi.
The Majingilane came in very quickly, so were off to a bit more of a flying start, so to speak.
We’re all hoping for a whole host of cubs too!!!

Irene Nathanson

I am excited to hear the Birmingham males have seemed to settle down south now. Hopefully some cubs will soon follow. Thank you for sharing. I love the cover video. Always so dramatic at night

James Tyrrell

Hi Irene.
Agreed. The spotlight just brings such focus onto the action, with zero distractions!
When are you back for a visit?

Irene Nathanson

Hello James,
I will back on the 23rd of August and will be staying at Varty camps for 7 nights with my friend Monica. It will be her first stay at Londolozi but second safari. I know she is in for a treat. I hope you will be there during my stay and hope to see you then. Irene

Joanne Wadsworth

I had the same thought, James, as to why you feel the Birminghams possibly may not reign as long as their outstanding predecessor, the Magingilane? They seem well organized, well fed and well “serviced.” So? By the way your storytelling was wonderful and tied in well with the images.

James Tyrrell

Hi Joanne,

Thanks for the kind words.
There’s nothing to suggest they can’t be around as long as the Majingilane, it just seems unlikely, as the Majingilane had such an incredibly long run. It’s just as much a case of circumstance and timing with regards to the tenures of other coalitions as it is with the health or strength of the coalition itself…

Mj Bradley

They probably won’t be in Londolozi for as long as the Maginjilane, they showed up around the North in 2015 and the Matimbas wisely decided to move south. They could be a dominant coalition for 8 yrs.. but that means they have to be smart as well as strong.

Malavika Gupta

Informative as usual, James. I was wondering if you could create a lion family tree for us? That’ll help those of us with weaker memories to keep track of ancestors and descendants, and of course put th lion blogs a bit more in context. Thanks and enjoy your weekend.

James Tyrrell

Hi Malavika,
We are actually working on one as it happens. It gets complicated fairly quickly but we’ll see what we can do.
Unfortunately a simple family tree doesn’t convey even a tenth of the drama involved, but it is a useful resource.

Michael & Terri Klauber

James, How awesome to have so many lions in the neighborhood! The nights and mornings must be awesome with all the sounds!

James Tyrrell

Hi Michael,

It has been a particularly vocal couple of weeks! Things are getting interesting…

Callum Evans

Very interesting to follow the establishment of these males, wonder what comes next.

Female lion groups will often split into groups depending on family ties or allegiances in times of hardship to improve their chances of survival, though it’s more the norm in harsher climates like the Namib and the Kalahari. How regulrly does it happen in the Lowveld?

James Tyrrell

Callum as you say it must be largely circumstantial.
Size of pride will also play a large role I imagine, with bigger prides often struggling to provide enough food for all mouths. Unless they’re regularly taking down big prey species.
A long-term study would be far more revealing than a simple few years of observation, so unfortunately I can’t say for sure how frequently it happens down here..

Callum Evans

That makes sense. Unless a large pride takes down buffalo or giraffe regularly then I guess it is unlikely they will all be together regularly. Would the Ntsevu Pride be an example of that?

Phil Schultz

Always a pleasure to get the latest lion goings ons James. After a year of anticipation, we leave for South Africa next Friday and while the following week will be spent in the Okavango Delta, we’ll be in Londolozi the week after that. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross. Either way, extremely excited and looking forward to time at one of the most amazing wildlife experiences one can have on the planet

James Tyrrell

Hi Phil,

Things are certainly getting interesting, with the Mhangeni females coming back East, and the Matimbas returning, seemingly from the dead!
Looking forward to having you here! Come pop in to the Creative Hub – I should be around.

Best regards

Mike Ryan

Thanks James what news on the other males are the Avocas still around and think I heard the Matimbas came back all but briefly

James Tyrrell

Hi Mike,
As far as I know the Avocas have been spending time in Sabi Sabi and southern MM. Apparently there are three new Avoca males that have entered the reserve to the north. From the same pride but younger than the pair to the south, so they left a little later…

Judy Hayden

Great story of events. Lions have always amazed me and I hope that these young males do well and thrive as they have a nice pride of females to help that along. I assume they are younger and not as organized on getting the priorities straight. Time will tell, as we watch the pride grow and our Birminghams become the Kings.

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